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09/24/2020 01:35:36 PM


Rabbi Barry Gelman

Let’s Talk About Dancing

09/24/2020 10:04:33 AM

Rabbi Barry Gelman

Let’s talk about dancing. I am sure that dancing is not the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about this time of year and  Yom Kippur…Maybe we can change that.

Presumably we have all been engaged in Teshuvah  -  repentance for the last month. We have prayed, we have recited selichot, we have asked for forgiveness and we have engaged in introspection.  

An article I recently read has me rethinking the entire thing. Essentially, the article asks whose Teshuva have we been doing?  Has it been authentic or is it a cheap imitation of someone else’s Teshuva.

The author, Dr. Yehuda Gellman (no relation), now professor emeritus at Ben Gurion University, likens teshuva to a dance.

He wonders, the following. “Consider the first human ever to have danced a dance. It was surely a complete expression of the person’s reason for dancing. All of his joy, or sorrow, or homage, was in that dance. But consider now the second person ever to have danced a dance. For him, it was harder to dance his own dance. Why? Because he had once seen someone else dance, and now, there was danger of dancing not his own dance, but someone else’s. There was a danger of allowing the form of the dance to replace its essence. The more mankind danced, the harder it has become to dance one’s very own dance.

Dr. Gellman continues, and claims that Teshuvah is a dance. It can be one’s very own, or it can be a copy of someone else’s.

As I read this I began to wonder, whose Teshuvah have I been doing. I have read books by Rav Kook. Am I doing my own Teshuvah or Rav Kook’s Teshuvah? I have read many pages by Rabbi Soloveitchik and I wonder, am I doing my own Teshuvah or Rav Soloveitchik’s Teshuvah.

All of the available material is wonderful..the readers, the articles..but how do we tap into our own essence.

Is it possible to turn back the clock to dance our own dance?

I think the answer may lie in a surprising statement made by Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi.

רבי אומר על כל עבירות שבתורה בין עשה תשובה בין לא עשה תשובה יום הכפורים מכפר


Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi says that for all transgressions in the Torah, whether one repented or did not repent, Yom Kippur atones 

What a remarkable statement! 

It is the end of a conversation insisting that Yom Kippur only works if we repent. Comes along Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi and claims - declares - demands -  That Teshuvah is not necessary. Yom Kippur, the day itself, does the trick and provides atonement for our sins.

How can that be? Is that even possible?

It may help if we can hone in on one of the attributes of Yom Kippur.

There is a striking resemblance between Yom Kippur and Matan Torah and other moments of revelation.

A few examples:

Not eating: Shmot 34:28

וַֽיְהִי־שָׁ֣ם עִם־יְהוָ֗ה אַרְבָּעִ֥ים יוֹם֙ וְאַרְבָּעִ֣ים לַ֔יְלָה לֶ֚חֶם לֹ֣א אָכַ֔ל וּמַ֖יִם לֹ֣א שָׁתָ֑ה וַיִּכְתֹּ֣ב עַל־הַלֻּחֹ֗ת אֵ֚ת דִּבְרֵ֣י הַבְּרִ֔ית עֲשֶׂ֖רֶת הַדְּבָרִֽים׃

And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he ate no bread and drank no water; and he wrote down on the tablets the terms of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.

Not wearing leather shoes: Shmot 3:5

וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אַל־תִּקְרַ֣ב הֲלֹ֑ם שַׁל־נְעָלֶ֙יךָ֙ מֵעַ֣ל רַגְלֶ֔יךָ כִּ֣י הַמָּק֗וֹם אֲשֶׁ֤ר אַתָּה֙ עוֹמֵ֣ד עָלָ֔יו אַדְמַת־קֹ֖דֶשׁ הֽוּא׃

And He said, “Do not come closer. Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground.

No Marital relations: Shmot 19:15

וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ אֶל־הָעָ֔ם הֱי֥וּ נְכֹנִ֖ים לִשְׁלֹ֣שֶׁת יָמִ֑ים אַֽל־תִּגְּשׁ֖וּ אֶל־אִשָּֽׁה׃

And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day: do not go near a woman.”

Rashi fills out the picture for us when he teaches that the second set of luchot (tablets) which served as a symbol of God’s forgiveness were given on the tenth of Tishrei - Yom Kippur.

“He again spent there the forty days of which it is stated, (Deuteronomy 10:10) “... On the tenth of Tishri God became reconciled with Israel in joy and perfect affection and said to Moses: “I have forgiven!” and handed him over the second tablets…”

What emerges from this is that there are various examples of revelation: God to Moshe at the burning bush, God to Bnei Yisrael at Sinai AND God to US - on Yom Kippur

Now we can explain what Rabbi  Yehuda Hanassi meant when he said the Yom Kippur itself atones…

Sin severs the relationship  between God and the Jewish people. Yom Kippur - revelation day - rekindles the relationship. 

This is how Rabbi Solovetichik puts it. 


Yom Kippur refreshes all of that. Yom Kippur does turn back the clock - Yom Kippur allows us to dance our own dance.

This is the secret that Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi was talking about when he said that Yom Kippur in and of itself can bring repentance. Yom Kippur, like Matan Torah is a day of revelation. God extends Himself to us .

In turn, if we extend ourself to Him, then the “day itself” has done its job. No teshuva is necessary because we are back in the presence of God just like we were at Har Sinai.

Teshuva is a dance - but it need not be an imitation. It can be can be ours because on this one day we are afforded the opportunity to stand with God - face to face as we did at Sinai when revelation was direct and our own. 

It is up to us to be sensitive to it.

I will conclude with a story:


Yom Kippur is not a day for acting. It is not a day for doing someone else’s teshuva. It is a day for authenticity - a day for honesty.  What an opportunity we have. A day to dance our own dance as we turn back the clock - to start all over again.

Yom Kippur can be magical if we allow ourselves to feel that we are, once again, Lifnei Hashem - in the presence o God.

אָמַר רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא, אַשְׁרֵיכֶם יִשְׂרָאֵל, לִפְנֵי מִי אַתֶּם מִטַּהֲרִין, וּמִי מְטַהֵר אֶתְכֶם,  אֲבִיכֶם שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר, וְזָרַקְתִּי עֲלֵיכֶם מַיִם טְהוֹרִים וּטְהַרְתֶּם. וְאוֹמֵר, מִקְוֵה יִשְׂרָאֵל ה', מַה מִּקְוֶה מְטַהֵר אֶת הַטְּמֵאִים, אַף הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מְטַהֵר אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל

Rabbi Akiva said: How fortunate are you, Israel; before Whom are you purified, and Who purifies you? It is your Father in Heaven, as it is stated: “And I will sprinkle purifying water upon you, and you shall be purified” (Ezekiel 36:25). And it says: “The ritual bath of Israel is God” (Jeremiah 17:13). Just as a ritual bath purifies the impure, so too, the Holy One, Blessed be He, purifies Israel.

May we merit God’s purification and may we all be inscribed in the book of life.

Tue, May 18 2021 7 Sivan 5781