Yesterday morning, my three-year-old son Evan wasn’t quite ready to be dropped at pre-school, so he joined me in the chapel for morning prayers. He sat on my lap cuddling with me and playing with his constant companions — a red angry bird pencil topper and a doll of Diego, the animal rescuer. Andy and I chanted our usual ten minutes of prayers and then I turned on our meditation playlist, which contains two mellow songs and then three progressively more up-beat songs.
During the two mellow songs, Evan and I cuddled and rocked to the music, as he, Diego, and birdy took turns giving me kisses on the cheek and telling me they loved me. At that point, I was pretty much convinced this would be my most special prayer session ever. . . . But then, during the first upbeat song, Neshama Carlebach’s Adon Olam, I felt a strange sensation on my leg and opened my eyes to find Diego dancing on my leg … with assistance from Evan, of course! So, Evan and I joined Diego, and we danced through the last three tunes. By the end, Evan was laughing, giggling, and begging for more.
When I announced it was time to go to school, he begged to stay with me. I wrapped him up in my arms and said to him, “I know you are sad. Andy and I don’t want to go to work either. But you know what we have to do?” Sniffling, he asked, “What, Ami?” “Remember how it felt when we were dancing? How happy you were right here?,” I asked, patting his chest. He shook his head yes, and I said, “You just take that feeling with you all day, and when you start to get sad or upset, you just think about how it felt to dance, and then you smile and be happy.” “Okay, Ami,” he replied.
To be clear, this “dancing” that I’m encouraging my son to adopt … it is NOT the dance of Fiyero, from the Broadway musical, Wicked. Although Fiyero encourages others to join him in “dancing through life,” his song reveals he wants others to join him in being “callow” and “shallow,” and in living a brainless, “unexamined life,” because “nothing matters, so just keep dancing.”
I, on the other hand, want my son to understand: “The universe is dancing and we are here to dance that dance with it and for the Creator.” Andrew Harvey, Foreword at xii, Hasidic Tales: Annotated & Explained (2004), SkyLight Paths Publishing (Woodstock, Vt.). As Harvey further explains:
Hesed, this bliss-fire of Divine Love, underpins the whole of the universe and is boundless . . . . Every bird, every stone, every fern, every dancing flea is burning in its flame—it is the flame-stuff from which all the universe is woven in ecstasy [and] G-d gives the burning love of hesed to us constantly at all times, and in all circumstances. That is what you come to know when your heart is opened in awe and humility to the Creator. Infinite love is given; it is the nature of G-d to give it infinitely. A Hasid knows this and dares to try to empty himself or herself so as to be filled with the divine passion of compassion and blaze with its rapture and hunger to serve all beings in the Real.
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[T]he core secret of the Hasidic way [is] that to live the truth of reality requires the most determined imaginable commitment to a struggle against anything – pride, grief, anger, depression, inner doubt, laziness of being – that keeps you from knowing and burning in G-d’s joy. To become a Hasid is to become a blessing for others. You have to give yourself again and again and again to the great dance of praise and celebration, whatever the circumstances boiling around you. . . . To keep dancing . . . is not a denial of death, pain, horror, or evil. It is a continual and ultimate affirmation of the mercy, power, and hesed of G-d, of the essential truth of life. To keep dancing is a continual reimmersion in the fire of G-d’s glory to be turned slowly to pure gold in its flames.
Id. at ix-xi.
THAT is the dance I want both of my sons to learn . . . the dance that I am learning . . . the dance that comes more naturally to me with every passing day . . . Baruch Hashem . . .