When the crooked cannot be made straight

“I had never realized the power of a circle dance” Greg told me. He shared a story from a few years ago. That particular night he had been feeling very low. Distressed, really. He sat alone in the corner of a room. Others nearby had begun to dance arm-in-arm. “One of them caught my eye” he recalled. “He waved me forward to join them. He ignored my hesitations. He came over and gently pulled me in. As we went around, I started to feel something new. Before I knew it, I literally felt transported to a happier place.”

Dancing in a circle has such an effect. It’s one reason why mourners don’t dance. As Ecclesiastes, Sukkot’s biblical scroll, makes clear, not only is there “a time to pluck and a time to plant, a time to laugh and at time to weep, there is a time to dance and a time to mourn” (Eccl. 3:2,4).

The physics of ‘circle energy’ draws us in, then pushes us out. But the metaphysics of it lifts us. It spiritually picks us up and deposits us on higher ground.

Most of us are ripe for such a pick-me-up. “No news is good news” the saying goes. The problem, of course, is that news is constantly breaking in. Most news is disappointing news. Tidings are grim. Rather than sensing promise in the arc of the moral universe, we feel kinship with Ecclesiastes who, going in circles, despairs over whether there can be anything new under the sun.

Have you ever wondered, ‘From where do circular dances like the Hora and Wedding dances originate?’ When Jerusalem’s Temple was active, the altar was encircled with willows on Sukkot. So Sukkot gives birth to the circle dance. Ecclesiastes’ downward spiraling emotion gives way to a whirling motion whose spinning can launch soaring spirits.

Present COVID threats require that such dancing be postponed this season. Yet the legacy of energy transfusions that get generated as our Fall Festivals wind down, can inspire us to find spiritually high-touch ways to share heart-to-heart when arm-to-arm is not available. Remember, even when the crooked cannot be made straight (Is. 40:4), you can take a weeping willow and remind it how to smile.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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