May 30, 2024
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Serving Hashem With Unselfconscious Joy

The Simchat Beit Hashoeva, the most joyous and amazing celebration in the world, took place on Chol Hamoed Sukkot to celebrate the drawing of the water for the water libation. The Gemara says, “One who has not witnessed the celebration of the Simchat Beit Hashoeva has never seen real joy” (Sukkah 51a). One aspect of this joyous celebration was that “men of piety and good deeds would dance before those who had assembled for the celebration, with lit torches in their hands, singing songs and praises…” It was the venerable tzaddikim, the learned and righteous men who would usually be found in the beit midrash studying, who would fill themselves with joy and dance wildly in the public eye, behaving in a manner in what would normally be considered undignified.

Michal, the daughter of King Shaul, might have disapproved of the Simchat Beit Hashoeva. After all, she criticized her husband King David for this type of behavior. When bringing up the Aron to Yerushalayim, David “danced with all his strength before Hashem” (Samuel II 6:14). Michal saw “King David leaping and dancing before Hashem” (Samuel II 6:16) and she berated him for degrading himself in front of the common people with his wild dancing. However, King David did not see it that way and he responded, “In the presence of Hashem, Who chose me over your father and over his entire house to appoint me as ruler over the people of Hashem, over Israel—before Hashem I shall rejoice. And I shall behave even more humbly than this, and I shall be lowly in my eyes; and among the maidservants of whom you spoke—among them I will be honored!” (Samuel II 6: 21-22). In other words, he tells her that dancing in front of Hashem is not degrading, it is actually a great honor. Dancing before Hashem is not silly, it is honorable.

The Rambam in Hilchot Lulav 8:15 rules against Michal in favor of King David. He writes that what David did was not only appropriate, but actually the model for how Jews are supposed to behave when rejoicing before Hashem. David Hamelech is the precedent for what all great and venerable people have done throughout the ages, including the rabbanim at the Simchat Beit Hashoeva. A more familiar example that can perhaps give us a flavor of the joy they experienced is a wedding, where great, respectable people do not consider it beneath their dignity to do a interesting trick or fun dance move in order to bring joy to the chatan and kallah.

Being un-self-conscious is not just important in dancing, but is necessary for the performance of mitzvot in general. The Rema, in his opening comments to the Shulchan Aruch, encourages everyone to not be embarrassed in front of other people who might ridicule them because of their service of God. He states this important message, about not being ashamed or embarrassed to keep halacha and do mitzvot, before beginning his detailed codification of halacha because self-consciousness can be a significant hindrance to the observance of Halacha.

The Gemara in Yevamot 79a says that the Jewish people are distinguished by three characteristics. We are merciful, bashful and benevolent. In contrast, the Gemara in Beitza 25b says that the reason Hashem gave the Jewish people the Torah is because they are brazen. So, what characteristic defines the Jews? Are we bashful or are we brazen? The Cheshev Sofer (a great-great-grandson of the Chatam Sofer) cites an interpretation that explains that we are both. In regard to spiritual matters the Jews are brazen. We don’t let anything get in our way from fulfilling Hashem’s commandments, and therefore Hashem chose us to receive the Torah. However, in regard to worldly matters we are bashful. We are considerate and forgiving of our fellow man. In other words, we have both brazenness and bashfulness and they ought to be used in the appropriate circumstance. When dancing at a Simchat Beit Hashoeva or on Simchat Torah we should use this trait of brazenness to dance with unmitigated joy.

By Sara Schapiro


Sara Schapiro is a sophomore at Stern College for Women and a resident of Bergenfield.

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