Thursday, January 17, 2019

Letter from Jerusalem: My dance routine

From Letter from Jerusalem:

Dear Subscriber,
I am happy to be able to let you know that with praise and thanks to the Faithful Healer, I am continuing to recuperate well from my recent operation. I am now in the latter stages of a course of “precautionary” chemotherapy which though tiring and debilitating, has not had the harshest feared side-effects! The latest scans and tests indicate that my body is healthy and free of malignancy.

It is crystal clear to me that G-d has sent me this experience in His endless love, kindness and mercy as a powerful “Wake-Up Call”. It has been a steep learning curve and a truly life-changing experience. I’ve been through my share of life-changing experiences from the age of 25, when I started my reconnection with my Jewish roots and married soon afterwards, followed by a “midlife crisis” during my 40’s involving much re-evaluation of my goals and life-style.

I’ve had brushes with medical issues in the past, but nothing like a major operation to remove an infected growth deemed to be malignant. A bite of the dreaded cancer was once considered a near-certain death-sentence and even today, despite all the medical advances in combating the disease, it certainly leaves one twice-shy! At some of my hardest moments lying practically immobilized on my hospital bed, I felt death staring me in the face, and I realized that Teshuvah repentance must be complete. It’s either now or never.

I have sought to clarify my goals and mission in this world, I have made some undertakings that I am trying to carry through with His help, and I have made some major life-style changes, radically reviewing and improving my diet and taking regular exercise.

For nearly three months before, during and after my operation I could barely take a few paces. How I would ever again be able to climb the 40 steps up to our third-floor Jerusalem apartment with no elevator in the building?

After my operation, when I started trying to walk again, I felt wobbly and giddy and constantly fearful of tripping and falling. I felt I had been catapulted into advanced old age! My exercises and walking over the last few weeks have most certainly improved my balance and self-confidence. But what has helped more than anything is a practice I have long believed in but am only now striving to implement on a daily basis – Chassidic Dance!

“Praise Him with… dance” (Psalms 150:4)

Every weekday I play recordings of lively Chassidic music and in the privacy of my home, dance, march, twerk and swirl about freestyle for up to 15 minutes wearing a huge smile of delight, my heart filled with gratitude, love and a sense of connection to G-d Almighty. I aim at graceful flowing movement, taking care not to jerk my body or subject my legs and feet to harsh impact.

As a child I loved ballet and would improvise to records of “Swan Lake”. Now, sixty years later, dance has taken on a whole new meaning for me.

I find it to be a most wonderful form of aerobic exercise, creating a sublime feeling of exhilaration, energy flow and inner warmth. But it is so much more. One can use one’s arms and legs, one’s trots and marches forwards and backwards, one’s turns and swirls in all directions in joyous praise and outreach to G-d. The physical becomes spiritual; everyday regular domestic space turns into sacred space, a veritable sanctuary.

“So says the Lord HaShem: from the four directions (ruchot) come, O spirit (ru’ach)” (Ezekiel 37:9; the Hebrew word ru’ach means both a “direction” and a “wind” or “spirit”). In Chassidic dance one reaches out in all directions, feeling His presence in all directions, drawing down His blessed influences and spreading them in all directions.

Mitigating harsh decrees

Of all the outstanding rabbinical sages, it was Rabbi Nachman of Breslov who spoke more than anyone about devotional dance. Those who saw him dance said he did so with consummate grace. And he urged his followers to dance as a way to sweeten harsh judgements against the people of Israel. In the year 1802, when the Czarist Russian government announced a series of punitive decrees against the Jews under their rule, Rabbi Nachman taught that the Jews must literally dance, and this would help push them off and nullify the decrees.

He explained that in the Kabbalistic schema, where all the “worlds” that make up the Universe are arranged in the form of Adam, the essential human spiritual form, our lowly material world of action – where darkness and spiritual concealment grip so tightly – corresponds to the “legs” of the system. The hold of the evil forces can be broken only by raising the “legs” towards the level of the heart, which is the sanctuary of BinahUnderstanding, through which the darkness and concealment are connected with their exalted spiritual root and thereby mitigated (Likutey Moharan Part 1 Teaching 41).

What distinguishes dance from other kinds of celebration, such as singing and handclapping, is precisely that through our leaps and jumps we raise our legs from the ground towards the place of the heart! The physical action of dancing, when accompanied by the inner mental kavanah (“intent”) to “sweeten the harsh judgments”, sets off joyous reverberations in all the worlds!!!

When we move our arms and legs in dance to the holy melodies revealed by the true Tzaddikim, we fill the limbs of our bodies and our very souls with the Ru’ach, spirit of the Tzaddik (Likutey Moharan Part 1 Teaching 10).

Rabbi Nachman pointed out that the Hebrew word for a sick person, Choleh, is also the word for a "dance circle". The great dance circle of the Tzaddikim in time to come will mark the ultimate triumph over illness (Likutey Moharan Part 2 Teaching 24). 

Dance every day!

Chassidic dance is a most powerful weapon in our spiritual and physical healthcare armory. Rabbi Nachman’s closest disciple, Rabbi Nathan of Breslov, said to one of his students, "I'll give you a pathway to repentance: dance every day!" (Avanehah Barzelp.62 #29).

What better way of combining physical and spiritual exercise than to make it a regular practice, six days a week, to play tapes of your favorite nigunim and to dance free-style for a time?

“And He said: 'If you will diligently listen to the voice of HaShem your G-d, and do that which is right in His eyes and give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, none of the diseases that I put upon the Egyptians shall I put upon you, for I am HaShemWho heals you” (Exodus 15:26).

May you be blessed with good health, strength and joy in the Light of HaShem!

Shalom from Yerushalayim

Avraham ben Yaakov

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