Why are you laughing

Friday, 8 August, 2014 - 3:59 am


Dear Friends,

They walked there together, the four leaders of the generation: Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Akiva. They reached Mount Scopus in Jerusalem, the city that had just recently been destroyed, and, in great pain, rent their clothes in mourning.

They then approached the Temple Mount and suddenly saw a fox coming out of the place where the Kodesh Hakodashim (Holy of Holies) had been – the place where only the Cohen Gadol (High Priest) could enter, having purified and elevated himself, and even that – only once a year, on Yom Kippur. This was too much; they burst into tears – except for Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva didn’t cry; instead of crying, he laughed.

“Why are you laughing?” they asked him. Seeing a fox in the Kodesh Hakodashim is a reason to cry, not to laugh!

But Rabbi Akiva just smiled and said, “I’m looking a few steps forward. I am focusing on the future, not on the past.

“I remember the terrible prophecy of the destruction, which came true down to the smallest detail; down to this fox that is desecrating the holiest place in the world. But – and it’s a very significant ‘but’ – I also remember the prophecies of consolation and redemption, and this very fox is what reminds me that they, too will come true, down to the last detail, just like this fox is fulfilling in front of our eyes the prophecy of destruction, in all its searing pain.

“And now, I ask you, my friends: isn’t a prophecy of consolation and redemption a reason for laughter and joy?”

“Akiva,” the other three responded, “You have consoled us; you have consoled us.”


This Shabbat is called “Shabbat Nachamu”, named for the Haftara, which is taken from Yeshayahu’s prophecy “Nachamu, Nachamu Ami..” (Be consoled, be consoled, My people). As with everything else, consolation has varying degrees. One can experience the destruction in the present and believe in the future consolation, like Rabbi Akiva’s friends. But it is possible, and even recommended, to experience the future of consolation and redemption already in the present, just like Rabbi Akiva.


Wishing you a Shabbos of Nechama and Geulah,


Zalmen Wishedski

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