When Dancing was a Spectator Sport

October 7, 2014 at 10:51 PM , ,
“….Though it is a Mitzvah to rejoice on all the festivals, there was an additional celebration in the Mikdash on the festival of Sukkos, as [Vayikra 23:40] commands: “And you shall Rejoice before G-od, you G-od, for seven days….”The greatest of Israeli’s wise men: The Rashei Yeshivos, the members of the sanhedrin, the pious, the elders, and the men of stature would dance, clap, sing, and rejoice in the Mikdash on the days of Sukkos, The masses however, men and women would come to see and hear….. (Rambam, Hilchot Lulav 8:12-14)

אף על פי שכל המועדות מצוה לשמוח בהן, בחג הסוכות היתה במקדש יום שמחה יתירה, שנאמר ושמחתם לפני ה’ אלהיכם שבעת ימים… ולא היו עושין אותה עמי הארץ וכל מי שירצה, אלא גדולי חכמי ישראל וראשי הישיבות והסנהדרין והחסידים והזקנים ואנשי מעשה הם שהיו מרקדין ומספקין ומנגנין ומשמחין במקדש בימי חג הסוכות. אבל כל העם האנשים והנשים כולן באין לראות ולשמוע


In the very next Halacha, the Rambam states: “Happiness with which a person rejoices in the fulfillment of the mitzvos and the love of G-d who commanded them is a great form of worship”. Why then was active participation in the Sukkos festivities in the Beis Hamikdash so exclusive, the masses participating only as spectators?

The answer is that though no one was exempt from the additional rejoicing obligated on Sukkos, only the wise and pious were capable of actually partaking in the singing and dancing. This was because the festivities took place in the Mikdash, as stated in the Torah, “you shall rejoice before G-d“. This created a situation which was virtually impossible to balance, for along with the rejoicing we are commanded in Vayikra (19:30): “And you shall revere my Mikdash”: to behave in the Mikdash with awe and reverence. To sing, jump and dance, and all the while not compromise or lose focus from your feelings of reverence toward the home of G-d, was a feat that only the most pious and utterly humble could manage.

The average person, however, could not maintain a sense of reverence while actually dancing and reveling. In order not to compromise on their sense of awe and dignity toward the Mikdash, their participation in the rejoicing was limited to being joyously uplifted by watching the elders and sages dance.

Today, however, as we celebrate Simchas Beis Hasho’eiva outside the Mikdash, we can all join the dancing and rejoicing, the truly “great worship” of G-d.

Simchas Beis Hasho'eiva

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—Toras Menachem vol. 13, pp. 16-18






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