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Why Being Foolish Can Be Holy

Why Being Foolish Can Be Holy


As children, we may have been told, “Stop acting so silly!” No one ever said, “Start acting silly!”

So as adults, acting foolishly may feel unnatural. But sometimes, foolishness is the best way to connect to G‑d—holy foolishness, that is. Such is the subject matter of a discourse that the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, prepared to share with his followers in honor of his grandmother’s yahrtzeit (anniversary of passing) on 10 Shevat. The Rebbe passed away on that very day, 10 Shevat, before he was able to present the discourse, but its many chapters were expounded by his successor, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, and continue to be studied each year at this time in his memory.

It may be Acting foolishly may feel unnaturalhard for us, having painstakingly learned to curb (most of!) our childish behavior, to conceive of foolishness as actually desirable, and yes—veritably holy. But just see the caliber of people who were accused of acting foolishly. Venerable though they were, in each case their contemporaries needed to see patent divine validation of their indecorous behavior.

  • Rav Shmuel bar Yitzchak would dance intensely at weddings, his body, hands and feet flying in all directions. His lack of inhibition disturbed his colleagues. It is a mitzvah to make a groom and bride happy, but they felt some decorum should be retained. They reproved him, “You are an embarrassment to Torah scholars!”1 But G‑d approved of his unabashed antics. At his funeral, a pillar of fire in the shape of a myrtle branch separated his bier from the people who were escorting him. It was a clear vindication of his “foolish” behavior.
  • King David provides another model of uninhibited joy. Measured steps and majestic dancing could not contain his ecstasy at the Ark’s being brought up to Jerusalem. He flew, whirled and leaped, making him look like a “mindless fool,” in his wife’s words. But G‑d was pleased with his holy folly.
  • When a prophet received prophecy, he was called “crazy” because he was in an altered state of consciousness, a state divested of his ego, so that G‑d’s light could shine in him. (More prosaically, this is somewhat akin to the way jesters were seen as fools, and were therefore able to tell the truth to the most powerful rulers and dictators without censure.)

Holy folly can help us counteract the effects of our negative behavior as well.

Our Sages tell us that a person sins only because a “spirit of folly” (ruach shtut) enters him.2 In other words, when a person sins, it is an act of sheer insanity.3 What person in his right mind would want to create a rift between himself and his Creator?

When we sin, it is due to a loss of self-control. Impulsivity won. And, as Maimonides says, when we want to overcome a weakness, we go to the opposite extreme. So we counter the ruach shtut with shtut d’kedushah, “holy folly”—letting go with joyful abandon. We suffered a lapse because we didn’t take time to think things through. So now, we go from underuse of our brain to a supra-rational state of holy foolishness. We serve G‑d with abandon, with unrestrained joy, with holy insanity.

The power of mesirat nefesh (self-sacrifice) is another expression of folly. Rationally, it doesn’t make sense for a person to be ready to give up his life—but that’s what Jews do. Over the centuries, countless Jews have given up their lives rather than their religion—during the Inquisition, the Cossacks, the oppressive Soviet regime . . .

How do we have mesirat nefesh today, in our free, democratic society? By being willing to give up some comforts for the sake of serving G‑d, even if it means sacrificing some of our livelihood to keep Shabbat or our favorite foods to keep kosher.

Similarly, when we take a “leap of faith”—quieting the mind and submitting to the infinite powers of G‑d—we are practicing holy folly. We might think, How can I do that? What person of sound mind would rely on salvation from a source he cannot see? The heart cramps with fright. But we transcend our own logic and qualms, and place our trust in G‑d. That’s how we followed Moses into the desert, and that’s how we live each day—with faith and trust.

Richard Morris, a professional comedian who was one of the original writers for David Letterman, described how difficult it was when he initially began to keep Shabbat. His most important—and most well-paid—performances were on the weekends. “How will I survive?” he worried. But he took the leap, and the good news is that he is thriving, financially, professionally and spiritually.

We can get stuck in our limited capabilities, or have faith in His unlimited capacities. It might feel foolish to have faith, especially in today’s day and age. But foolishness is also the only way we can relate to G‑d—for none of us can understand Him. Infinite G‑dliness is beyond the reach of our intellect, beyond our imagination, completely incomprehensible.

If we are Remove your “self” from the equationall fools before G‑d, how do we know what the correct path is? G‑d has placed among us His agents—the righteous people of each generation who guide us. They may tell us to do something that goes against all rhyme and reason, but when we make the leap of faith, we are blessed with success.

So, go ahead, make a fool out of yourself. Tap into the uninhibited, silly behaviors that were dismissed during your childhood. Don’t be afraid to show your joy. Rejoice with others during their times of celebration. Rejoice with the Torah on Simchat Torah. Rejoice with G‑d every time you do a mitzvah.

If you have difficulty getting out of your box, remove your “self” from the equation. Remember, we can serve our egocentric smallness, or we can attach to His infinite greatness.

Talmud, Ketubot 17a.
Talmud, Sotah 3a.
Tanya, ch. 24.
Gitty Stolik is a mother and grandmother living in Brooklyn. She is the author of It's OK to Laugh and the editor of Our Vogue, a publication dedicated to highlighting the beauty of Jewish modesty from Torah and chassidic sources. She is also an educator who helps challenged children realize their hidden potential. This article is excerpted from her book.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Scott David Lucas Lebanon, ME. January 21, 2016

Being a fool; and being on the right path. So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was like a beast before AVI-AHD. But, staying within the path of the TORAH........I can now be chastened, like a father that corrects His son. Amein. Reply

Fro January 20, 2016

Simply profound...and true. Reply

Esther Ohio January 19, 2016

Thank you, this came to me at exactly the right time. There is a situation in my life that I have been struggling with, and not wanting to be the one to stand out, I have given in to the improper mode of conduct, but this has reinforced my faith and knowledge that no matter how different or foolish the right thing seems to be, it is just that, the right thing!!! And if it does seem foolish, that is soecificlky because we just cant understand gods ways. Than k you for sighs clear and consice description of the matter. Reply

inge reisinger zwickau January 19, 2016

thank you for your thoughts. you are right the potential is lying inside and sometimes it happens in your childhood that it is coverd either with an avalanche of snow or stones and it is the way to get out of this avalanches which people have caused even with my pains. i am laughing a lot and this helps to crack the hard cover of somebody else where he or she is caught. Reply

Maryasha Monsey January 19, 2016

Shdus D'Kedusha I just learned this ma'amar with a friend of mine a little while ago! So nice to see it explained on :) Reply

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