The Dance of Sukkot

And there was dancing at the Simchat Beit HaShoeiva. To explain it, one must return to Yom Kippur in the Temple.

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch,

Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch
"Yonah ben Amitai was among the olei regel, entered the Simchat Beit HaShoeiva ceremony in the Temple, and the the spirit of the Divine (Ruach HaKodesh) spoke to him." So says the Jerusalem Talmud. With this, we see the continuation of the story of the High Holy Days: on Rosh HaShanah, we Jews do teshuva, returning spiritually to our souls; on Yom Kippur, we thrust that soul to the forefront of all our activity, each one of us entering a personal Holy of Holies, with all of our activities "soul-directed"; and with Sukkot, the saga continues as we prepare that soul to reenter the physical world in which we live. We do this by entering an incubator, the sukkah, which is partially within the material world, but still very much a part of the spiritual world of the Jewish soul and the Temple. And there, like Yonah, we meet the Divine.

The Akeidat Yitzchak (Binding of Isaac), with which the Yomim Noraim period began, is the background for the Sukkot celebration of Simchat Beit HaShoeiva (Water-Drawing Celebration) in the Temple. As Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook explains in Olat R'iya:
The mesirut nefesh of Yitzchak at the Akeidah is what prepared future generations of Jews for the spiritual phenomenon of receiving the light of the Shechinah (Divine Presence) in the Temple during the pilgrimage holidays of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot. Thus, when the Torah says, "All your males will be seen (yeiraeh) by the Face of the Lord your God," in Shemot 34:23, it is drawing on the earlier words of Avraham Avinu (in Bereishit, chapter 12): "And Avraham called the name of the place 'God Sees,' as it is said today, 'On the Mount of God you will be seen.'"
The spirit of self-sacrifice that Avraham and Yitzchak manifested at the Akeidah could be seen by no one else but God, "God sees (yireh)", and it "removes all barriers between us and the Lord, so that there, in His Temple, He 'is seen (yeiraeh).' This Ruach HaKodesh of the nation during the Festivals is the basis of prophecy. The myriad everyday distractions prevent our appreciation of the Absolute Truth, but with concentration of all human faculties upwards, the door to the Divine opens. This is not prophecy that comes to a righteous man according to his deeds, but a special, treasured (segula) status accorded during pilgrimage holidays to the sons of Avraham and Yitzchak according to the level of Klal Yisrael in that place, Jerusalem." (Rabbi Kook's commentary, as explained by Rabbi Tau in Emunat Iteinu, vol. 5, pages 171-173)

"Seeing and being seen are united. Fear of the Lord, Yir'at HaShem, which sees all of our material world as an expression and garment of the inner, godly world, is the highest level of perception of the Almighty, and leads to communication with God - prophecy. And this is the simcha (happiness) of Yom Tov, for this yir'at HaShem allows the individual to recognize his proper place in the Klal, the All, and relative to his origins, leads to fulfillment and satisfaction."

This last statement requires explanation. The Talner Rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchak Weinberg, throws light on this: "Ein simcha k'hatarat hasfeikot." Man, at a loss to explain his existential place in this world, reaches inner peace on Sukkot. After the judgment of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur comes Sukkot, and everyone is shown his proper place, leading to simcha and spiritual elevation. This is why the whole nation came to the Temple, even women and children. This is why only the talmidei chachamim danced, as everyone in the nation saw clearly his role within Klal Yisrael, that together received Ruach HaKodesh.

And there was dancing at the Simchat Beit HaShoeiva. To explain it, one must return to Yom Kippur in the Temple. The Lubavicher Rebbe explains the constant changing of clothes by the Kohen Gadol between white, angelic, purely spiritual garb and golden, more physical garments. This represents our lives, torn between the physical and the spiritual, constantly, back and forth. But the constant changes symbolize "that in the life of the Jew, the material and spiritual are not distinct and separate, but coexistent." The soul of the Jew, thrust to the forefront on Yom Kippur, can thus manifest itself in everyday life after the holidays

The Talner Rebbe explains the dancing on Sukkot the same way. As we leave the time of judgment of Yom Kippur, the yir'at HaShem of the Akeidah makes us recognize our real spiritual level. And we see that, at Creation, B'reishit, the Almighty gave the earth to true spiritual children of Adam ("natan ha'aretz li'bnei Adam"). Realizing what we truly are, we are not worthy to even set our feet on this earth. And so, we dance, upward, off the earth. But as soon as we do that, we thereby are more spiritual people, symbolically thrust heavenward by our yir'at HaShem. And, as such, we are bnei Adam and do merit placing our feet on the earth. And then comes our recognition, again, of our own true worth, and another dancing jump. Over and over again. Physical, spiritual; unworthy, worthy. Dancing in happiness. The dance of the Jew emerging triumphant on Sukkot, at the Simchat Beit HaShoeiva.

May Am Yisrael soon see HaShem in His Great House on Mt. Moriah and dance together in happiness.

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