After the Israelites cross the sea, Miriam and the women dance. Moses leads the people with song, but Miriam leads them with dance.
The movement of the human body is an overflow of the human spirit. Joy breaks out in motion. When you watch Jews praying, their swaying is the ebb and flow of inner tides, reflecting the force of what is felt and said. When King David recovered the ark and led it in procession back to Jerusalem, he did not merely dance — he danced with all his might [2 Samuel 6:14].
The moments of greatest joy in the Jewish calendar — weddings, Simchat Torah, bar and bat mitzvah celebrations — are accompanied by dance. According to the Mishnah, in ancient times Yom Kippur was a day for matchmaking, and the maidens of Jerusalem would dress in white and dance [Ta’anit 4:8].
The human body is a sacred creation, and its workings are something to celebrate and to elevate. Judaism embraces all the human expressions of gratitude and of joy. There is enough sadness in life, and we should not shun or slight celebration. As Ecclesiastes reminded us thousands of years ago, there is a time to mourn and a time to dance.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book is “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press).