Miryam’s Circle Dance
R. Epstein builds his commentary on two hints in that passage. First he observes that the Torah presents information about the particular type of dance performed, that it was a circle dance. Second, he notes that Miryam sang her thanksgiving song in the present tense while Moshe formulated his nearly identical praise in the future. Based on these clues, R. Epstein demonstrates that Miryam, in her dance, accessed a higher state of consciousness than did Moshe through his song. R. Epstein bases his argument on kaballistic teachings about the unfolding of worlds.
It is known that creation passed through several eras before settling into the stable and familiar form that is our world. The stage immediately preceding ours is called the circle universe, while ours is the linear world of straight lines and hierarchy. These terms are both technical and metaphorical. They describe their arrangement of sefirot (the former as concentric circles the latter as three parallel lines), and the divergent nature of their worldviews.
Kaballa explains that just as creation emerged from the depths of Divinity, so will it return there in a single cycle of extension and retraction. Its worlds will unfold downward till their endpoint of emanation and then begin a reverse course back toward their roots (and beyond). Yet, unlike a yo-yo whose motion is similar, the universe undergoes profound transformations at each stage. The creation that returns has metamorphosed by its experience. It has been fixed, actualized, cleansed, and transfigured along the way.
Nevertheless, its return route is the exact reverse of its original emanation. We are still approaching the maximum point of extension, which will be unmistakably marked by the messianic age, and then we will begin our journey back up to our roots. The first stop will be the world of circles, the stage that immediately preceded ours on the way down.
Looking toward the future, the circle world is a more evolved and rectified state of consciousness than our present linear reality. Its lights are just becoming visible on the horizon signaling our approaching transition from this era to that. R. Epstein explores the worldviews of these two realities and the divergent psychologies that characterize each.
In the linear world everything occupies a unique position along a continuum extending from above to below. Each value imposes a hierarchy that orders the world according to its preferences. The Torah also ranks its members by the standards that it holds dear. A higher soul is one that is awake, in continuous communion, and always chooses the most spiritually productive option; a lower soul is ignorant of spiritual truths and wallows in the entangling repercussions of wrong action. This hierarchy of spiritual status marks a descending flow of enlightenment. Each person receives teachings from the level above and passes them on to the level below. Everyone is a student to those above, and a teacher to those below.
This linear world, with its multitude of intersecting hierarchies creates an encompassing network of incentives (both positive and negative) that motivate the resource demanding labor of self-improvement. Hierarchy of status defines a pecking order that keeps everyone striving to keep up with the Jones’. People occupying higher ranks become role models that inspire others to invest the effort required to obtain similar success. The whole point of the era of hierarchy is to create a context of values, inducements, constraints, and coercions that press out the full potential of each soul down to its last drop. Its straight line presents a clear direction of growth and compelling enforcements to assure forward motion.
Eventually, and hopefully quite soon, we will complete this consuming labor of self-development. All potential will be actualized, all impurities cleansed, all deprivations enriched, and all ignorance eliminated. At that point hierarchy will cease for it will have grown obsolete. Its whole point was to instigate the grueling work of self-actualization and to establish clear lines of authority to facilitate the downward flow of teachings. Its worldview, though built on a shaky foundation of relative truths, was (and is) remarkably successful in achieving its goals. But, explains R. Epstein, its days are numbered, its truths will pass, and a new and more rectified order of consciousness will reign, called the circle world.