“The Dance of Forgiveness”
“THE DANCE OF FORGIVENESS”
(from Ascent Quarterly)
The cycle of the year begins with Rosh HaShanah, and is followed by Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, all within the same month. The concluding celebrations are characterized by dancing in a circle, the Hebrew term for which is “machol.” This word has the same grammatical root as the world “mechilah,” meaning “pardon,” which is the theme of the preceding Holy Days of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. This double entendre is not at all coincidental.
Dance consists of movements that alternately separate the dancing partners and then draw them towards each other again. This process is evocative of the ebb and flow – the “yearning and returning” that characterizes our spiritual lives. There are times when we feel a sense of distance from G-d, and other times when the distance is bridged and we feel a great closeness. Were it not for this periodic distancing, the moments of closeness would not be so appreciated.
Throughout history the Jewish nation has experienced a collective ebb and flow in its relationship with G-d. Positively viewed, the periods of distancing are only for the purpose of experiencing the joy of closeness over and over again. Man, by nature, is not static, but keeps oscillating in this manner.
The Divine attributes of “Kindness” and “Severity” generate the “right” and “left” dimensions of existence respectively. Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are colored by the severity of the left side. They epitomize the first half of the verse from the love sonnet of Song of Songs [2:6], “His left hand under my head, His right hand embraces me.” The theme of this verse is similar to the rabbinic expression: “The left hand pushes away while the right hand draws close.”
As the verse indicates, a Jew’s service begins with the left side. Accordingly, Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, the days of awe and judgment (both of which are aspects of severity), come first in the cycle of Holy Days. On these days and the seven days in between we are introspective, analyzing the distance that has ensued as a result of poor judgment and inappropriate actions on our part. Subsequently, on Yom Kippur, we become more involved in regret for these shortcomings. Seeking purification from (hopefully) the very depths of our hearts, we make a firm resolution that from now on our sole aim and main endeavor will be to conduct our lives in a way that G-d would approve.
This period then gives way to the days of Sukkot when the closeness between man and G-d is re-established (“His right hand embraces me”)–the s’kach “hugs” us!. Pulling the lulav towards the heart after each waving–the same spot we tapped on the High Holy days during the Confessional prayers!–draws G-dliness into our hearts.
“Mechilah” (pardon) reaches its culmination in the act of “machol” (dancing) that is the highlight of Simchat Torah. The two together comprise a cycle and process whereby the Left Side of existence fuses with the Right Side, where the ebb and flow of distance and closeness meld in the mystical bond between G-d and His people.