“Juggling torches of fire! Performing acrobatics and musical numbers! Singing and whistling and playing the flute!”

Sounds like an ad for a children’s show—except it isn’t. Culled from the Talmud and the Rambam, the above is a description of the celebrations in the Temple on the holiday of Sukkot, at the Simchat Beit Hasho’evah.

Even though it is a mitzvah to rejoice on all the festivals, there was an additional celebration in the Temple on the festival of Sukkot, as the Torah commands: "And you shall rejoice before G‑d, your L‑rd, for seven days."1

The celebrations included dancing, clapping and songs playing on harps and cymbals.2 In addition, the Talmud recounts that Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel would juggle eight torches of fire and bow down so low he could kiss the ground.3 The Jerusalem Talmud relates how Rabbi Shimon ben Yehotzedek would perform unique feats of jumping.4

Isn’t it strange for rabbis, leaders and learned men to make a spectacle of themselves? Is it not demeaning?

Michal, the daughter of Saul, had a similar question. When King David accompanied the Ark of G‑d into Jerusalem, he rejoiced by leaping and dancing with all his might before G‑d.5 When Michal, who was David’s wife, peered through the window and witnessed his conduct, she expressed revulsion at the way he was “dishonoring” himself in public, like a simple person, or worse, an empty one. What possessed David to “let loose” and dance with such unbridled joy?

It was his humility. The Rambam writes that holding back from participating in rejoicing for a mitzvah is misplaced pride, for there is no greatness or honor other than celebrating before G‑d.6

King David’s response to Michal was, "I will hold myself even more lightly esteemed than this and be humble in my eyes,” because no one is too great to serve G‑d with joy.

And so the rabbis took the mitzvah of rejoicing on Sukkot to heart and danced with torches of fire.

Thoughtstream: Today, I will “let loose” and dance with my children, celebrating a holiday or a mitzvah that I can perform.