Miryam’s Circle Dance

This circle-truth is reenacted each year on the two festivals of Sukhot and Simchat Torah. Among the practices of those days is the custom to dance in a circle around the Torah.  On Sukhot (which includes Hoshanna Rabba) the movement is slow and stately; on Shemini Atzeret (which includes Simchat Torah) the dance is vigorous and celebratory.

The verse which describes the deeper symbolism of this practice reads,

The Lord has created a new thing on the earth, woman shall surround man.[25],[26]

Its words hearken to the era described above where circle consciousness supercedes hierarchy and replaces it as the greater and more encompassing truth.

The circle dancing that happens on Sukhot and Simchat Torah draws the lights of that sublime era down into our constricted world of lines and hierarchy. For those moments gender disparities cease and the soul encounters circle lights.  Now it knows how to orient, for having glimpsed the larger landscape, it identified the center to which it must face.  With this experience the soul is primed to discriminate holy sweetness and pure teachings by their consistency with circle truths.

All this Miryam knew and intended when she led the women in their circle dance. Miryam drew the future into the present, initiating the Jewish nation into the secret truth, promise, and yearning of the circle world: The day will come, blessed and welcomed by all, when woman will encompass man.” The highest lights will fill the world, insights that cannot be imagined by minds confined by hierarchy.  On that day gender disparities will cease, and perfect equality will reign.

Moshe phrased his celebratory song of the sea in the future tense, (“I will sing to HaShem…,”), because his vision was more limited than Miryam’s.  His conceptual mind could not break the gender-barrier to access the infinitely sweeter lights that lie on the other side.  And so he sang in the future tense, accepting that he could not, in the present, access those future truths, as if to say, “Then, when my mind has evolved to the next level, and I become able to hold those holy circle lights, then I will sing.”

Miryam, conversely, was able to touch those lights and bring them down into the present through her circle dance. This exalted task required the participation of her entire body.  Circle world lights are so intensely bright and complex that they do not fit into the delimited spaces of brain and mind.  These sufficed as organs of awareness for straight-line-consciousness but no amount of upgrade will equip them to hold circle lights. Like trying to run a complex graphic program on an antiquated laptop, there is not enough space in the computer’s brains to hold the complexity of operations, to allow the images to form or move through their transformations.  Similarly here, circle awareness is so vast that it takes an entire body to hold it.  Each cell must participate in the effort and share in the load.  The final “knowing” is a visceral experience where awareness permeates every limb and organ in the body. It is this body-based feature that makes these truths ecstatic.

…Every mouth shall offer thanks to You; every tongue shall vow allegiance to You; every eye shall look toward You; every knee shall bend to You; every erect spine shall prostrate itself before You; all hearts shall fear You, and each of my internal organs and kidneys shall sing praises to Your name, as it is written:  “All my bones shall say: HaShem, who is like You?[27]…Let all my internal organs bless His holy Name.”[28],[29]

Through her dance Miryam attained a visceral state of knowing the highest and most mysterious truths of the universe, and from inside that knowing she rejoiced, “Now I sing…”  All that we will discover in our eternally deepening journey toward knowledge of G‑d, Miryam knew then.  This is what the Torah teaches when it describes her celebration:

And Miryam the prophetess, the sister of Aharon, took the timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with circle dances. And Miryam answered them: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider has He thrown into the sea.”[30]

When Miryam gathered the women to dance in a circle (like the untilled ground surrounding a vineyard), she embodied, as a physical reality, the abstract and incomprehensible concept of “woman surrounding man.”  In that moment the lights of that truth actually descended below and imparted their secret knowledge to all present. In the deepest recesses of soul, all understood that hierarchy is an illusion and that gender disparities, their primary expression, must eventually cease.

Miryam answered the women in the present tense, “Sing, now, to the Lord…” for in that moment she apprehended and embodied circle truths, the highest secrets of the universe.  She merited to sing her song in the present tense, while even Moshe (the greatest prophet that every lived), could only know those words as distant truths.

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