Friday Candle Lighting: 5:44 PM
Shabbat Ends: 6:39 PM
Nothing Is More Serious Than Humor
“Go for yourself… (lit. Go to yourself)” (12:1)
Around twenty-five years ago, I remember sitting in the dining room of Ohr Somayach at a Sheva Berachot (post-wedding celebration). One of the Rabbis there was noted for his seriousness, self-control and gravitas. He sat, his hooded eyes fixed on a small Gemara held by his slender fingers. As soon as the bride and groom entered, he set his Gemara down, stood up and took a small vase with a flower in it that was on the table in front of him. He then proceeded to climb onto the table, place the vase on his head, and dance on the table with the vase perched precariously on his head. The bride and groom were beside themselves with laughter. After the singing and dancing to welcome the bride and groom had died down and everyone returned to their seats, I noticed that the Rabbi had gone back to his learning as though nothing had happened. Every time I saw him, he would do the same thing. It was fascinating to watch this instant metamorphosis. I have never managed to work out if he is a deeply serious person who could turn on the merriment at the turn of a mental switch, or a deeply humorous person who held his humor in check with his self-control.
The Gemara in Ketuvot (17a) recounts that Rav Yehuda bar Ilai would take a branch of myrtle and dance before the bride. Rav Shmuel bar Rav Yitzchak would dance while juggling three branches. Rabbi Zeira complained to Rav Shmuel and said, “The elder is embarrassing us.” But when Rav Shmuel passed away, a pillar of fire separated him from everyone else, and there was a tradition that this happened only for one or two people in each generation. The question arises: Why didn’t a pillar of fire separate Rav Yehuda bar Ilai from everyone else when he passed from the world? It cannot be because he only used one myrtle and not three. The Eitz Yosef explains that, whereas Rav Yehuda would dance in front of a bride, it wasn’t part of his habitual behavior. He would do it only on occasion. Rav Shmuel, however, never failed to do this.
There are times when we can slip and fall very far, and there are times when we can reach for the stars — but what we normally do is who we really are.