Mashiach and Jewish Leadership

Mashiach and Jewish Leadership: Part 28 – Joy

The third manifestation of foolishness, the awakening of joy through "holy folly," is in certain respects the simplest to understand and the easiest to access. Nonetheless, its application eludes most people. Its rewards are so immediate and long-lasting it is a wonder that people find it so hard to reveal this aspect in themselves and others.

The Talmud tells us that Rav Yehudah the son of Elayei, used to take a myrtle branch and dance joyously before a bride at her wedding. Rav Shmuel, the son of Rav Yitzchak, used to take three branches and juggle them. Rav Zeira took exception to their behavior, feeling it brought scorn upon the sages to act in such an "undignified" manner in public. When Rav Yehudah died, a pillar of fire which only appeared once in a generation accompanied him to his last resting place. This sign was considered acknowledgment form Above as to his great righteousness. Only then did Rav Zeira realize how precious his actions were in the eyes of Heaven.

The ability to use humor and "a little foolishness" to cause joy and laughter in others emanates from a level of wisdom above the usual restrictions of normative logic. When properly applied, this type of holy folly loosens the straight jacket and psychological barriers preventing people from opening up to each other and makes possible new levels of experience and consciousness. The great sage Rabbah would often begin his public lectures with an amusing story or anecdote in order to relax his students and create a rapport with them. In this way they would be more receptive to his teachings.

It is now customary for participants at a wedding to employ a number of unusual methods to awaken joy and laughter in the bride and groom. The spiritual effect of such holy folly is to bring souls together, creating the possibility of true union and the consummation of the marriage. Pure joy arouses the revelation of G-d's infinite light, the spiritual source of conceiving children.

Someone who dislikes this sort of folly actually prevents birth, as seen in the story of David and his wife Michal. As the holy ark was being brought up to Jerusalem, an event of great public celebration, King David began to dance so wildly and freely that Michal, upon speaking with him later, ridiculed him for his foolish behavior. David responded (Samuel II 6:21-22): "… before G-d I will make merry. I will be even more lowly than this, and will be base in my own eyes…." The story ends with the text stating: "…and Michal the daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death." In the eyes of David, bringing the ark to Jerusalem represented a wedding between G-d and Israel, worthy of "holy folly" of the highest order. Michal's disdain on a spiritual level prevented her own being from reaching the level of unity needed to bring children to the world.

The third level of folly differs from the two preceding categories in that they are more a means to other goals, whereas the joy evoked at this level is an end in itself, as it is written (Psalms 100:2): "Serve G-d with joy, come before Him with rejoicing." Maimonides writes concerning the joy produced by "a little foolishness" in his laws regarding the celebrations that took place in the Temple during the week- long holiday of Sukkot. Every night, water would be drawn from a nearby natural spring and brought up to the Temple in an immense festive procession. The water would then be poured on the alter, symbolizing the fervent hopes for a year of abundant rain and blessing. All the people would then celebrate the entire night with singing, ecstatic dancing and all sorts of carnival-like acrobatics. The Mishnah states (Sukkah 5:1): "He that never has seen the joy of the celebration of drawing the water has never in his life seen joy."

Maimonides states regarding these celebrations, that the joy of a commandment done with love is the highest spiritual service. He explains that one of the reasons mentioned in the Torah for the exile was that, while in Israel, the Jewish People did not serve G-d with joy and goodness of heart. He continues by declaring that anyone who feels they are too great or honorable to partake in the holy folly of these celebrations is in fact a sinner and a fool.

One of the main obstacles to reaching a state of happiness is pride, arrogance and an enlarged ego. In the same laws of Sukkotdiscussed above, Maimonides warns: "Do not glorify yourself before the king." Hyper self-consciousness that prevents "letting go" for the honor of the King of Kings is not a sign of honor but a mark of real foolishness.

Outside the land of Israel there is not the same spontaneous expression of joy felt through doing a mitzvah as in Israel, where the joy of a mitzvah is intrinsic to the mitzvah itself. One of the major themes of the Ba'al Shem Tov was that the time had come to experience the joy of a mitzvah even while in exile, as one would in the Land. According to Chassidut, this change of focus, among many other of the innovations of the Ba'al Sham Tov, helped begin a spiritual process of redemption leading to the modern return to Israel.

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