Messages for Tishrei #3

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, October 14, 2022 / 19 Tishrei 5783

Summary: This year, I am changing the format of Oasis Songs for the month of Tishrei by focusing on a quote from a notable Jewish figure. Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, who died two years ago, possessed a rare mind and left behind an extensive, important, and enviable body of work. The quote below comes from the book Change & Renewal.

Reading Time: Two minutes

“What is dance? In a dance, the people who dance join together, and no one is left [alone]….The dancers kick the earth so as to ascend heavenward. Again and again, the dancer strikes at the lowest part of the world, because [the dancer] does not want to be there [but] longs to elevate…above the surface of the ground….The desire for ascent, for transcendence, makes revelation possible.” -Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

I am not much of a dancer, but my life partner is. Dancing brings her tremendous joy. Science provides one explanation—dance releases “happy chemicals,” such as dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. Music also plays an important role in the power of dance, as well as the absorbing sense of flow that dancers experience. There’s more to this story, however, for science can explain how something works, but not the why or the meaning of an activity.

If we were only after the chemical or communal benefits of dancing, any nightclub would be sufficient. Yet where, when, and why we dance moves us beyond the explanations of biochemistry. Most ancient cultures and religions possessed forms of sacred dance, whose end purpose was indeed a form of elevation. The use of dance in a religious setting is a statement that dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin point us toward the sacred. That sense of openness, connection, and joy are some of the fruits and the goals of religious life.

There is a long history of dance in Judaism that is often overlooked. One place where it remains active is on Simchat Torah, which we will celebrate this Monday night at 6:30 pm. The fact that we dance with the Torah scrolls is a powerful indication that indeed we wish to ascend, even as we recommit ourselves to the Torah at the conclusion of our High Holiday season. I hope you will join us.

Shabbat shalom,

Rav D

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