V’taheir Libeinu

Composition and audio © Alexander Massey 13 August 2015

V’taheir libeinu, l’ovd’cha b’emet. “Purify our hearts, that we may serve You in truth.”

I introduced this composition to my Jewish Renewal community, the London Ruach Chavurah, at High Holy Days 2015. As this text occurs in the Amidah throughout the services, it became a gentle, insistent reminder for us to keep returning to the intention of this season, to make atonement, to purify our hearts and minds, and renew our commitment to serve. One of our members, Stuart Linke, helped me devise the dance (thank you, Stuart!). The movements are slow and simple, and a beautiful reflection of the ideas in the text.

In this dance, we make direct I-Thou encounter with our dance partner, and in those moments, we encounter ourselves, and encounter God. To engage directly in this way is a purifying act. To sing these words in the dance, singing to the Face of the Other, we realise that to serve God, we must serve the person in front of us. To serve the Other, we must purify ourselves of anything within ourselves that prevents us from serving. And in serving the Other, we purify ourselves. And so the circle turns – purifying in order to serve in order to purify in order to serve …

Circle dance

To begin: Everyone stand in a large circle (or several smaller circles with an even number of people in each). Staying in the circle, turn to face your partner, and maintain eye contact as much as possible.

  1. [V’taheir] Right foot forwards, [libeinu] Left foot joins it.
  2. [V’taheir] Left foot backwards, [libeinu] Right foot joins it.
  3. [V’taheir libeinu] Turn 360 degrees on the spot.
  4. [l’ovd’cha] Bow to your partner, [b’emet] return to upright.
  5. [V’taheir] Right foot forwards, [libeinu] Left foot joins it.
  6. [l’ovd’cha] Left foot backwards, [b’emet.] Right foot joins it.
  7. [V’taheir libeinu] Keep facing your partner, and either with arms out or holding partner’s hands, rotate 180 degrees so that you swap places in the circle.
  8. [l’ovd’cha b’emet.] Turn 180 degrees on the spot by yourself, to end up facing a new partner, looking the same direction as when you started.

To end: Keep repeating the chant and movements until you have danced with everyone in the circle.

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