LTTN med xp logoRabbi Akiva's Laughter

July 25, 1999

1999 Light to the Nations, Rabbi Chaim Richman - All Rights Reserved

  "Once, several years after the destruction of the Holy Temple, Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Eliezer ben Azarya, Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Akiva were going up to Jerusalem. When they reached Mt. Scopus, the site of the Temple came into view, and they tore their garments in mourning. When they reached the Temple Mount, they saw a fox dart out from the spot where the Holy of Holies had stood in the Holy Temple. The other rabbis began to weep, but Rabbi Akiva laughed. They said to him: "Akiva, you never cease to amaze us. We are crying, and you laugh!" But Rabbi Akiva said, "And you, why are you crying?"

The rabbis responded: "What? Shall we not weep? The place about which Scripture states (Numbers 1:51), 'And the stranger who draws close shall die,' has become a den of foxes? Indeed, this is a fulfillment of the verse, 'For Mt. Zion which lies desolate, foxes prowl over it' (Lamentations 5:18).

Rabbi Akiva answered them: 'This is exactly why I laugh. For just as we have seen the prophecies of Jerusalem's destruction have come to pass, so too, know that the prophecies of her future consolation shall also be fulfilled. I laughed because I remembered the verses (Zachariah 8:4-5), 'Old men and old women will once again sit in the streeets of Jerusalem, each with his staff in his hand because of advanced age; and the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in its streets.' The Holy One, blessed be He, has declared that just as the first prophecies have been fulfilled, so shall the latter. I am joyous that the first have already come to pass, for the latter shall be fulfilled in the future.'

Said the rabbis, 'You have comforted us, Akiva, you have comforted us. May you be comforted by the footsteps of the messenger'."

(Adapted from Midrash Rabba Eicha, 5)

Yesterday was the "Sabbath of Consolation," the Sabbath following Tisha B'Av, and the haftorah, the prophetic reading for the day that was recited by Jews all over the world, comes from Isaiah 40:

We read the words:

"Comfort, comfort My people, says your G-d. Speak consolingly of Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her period of exile has been completed, that her iniquity has been forgiven; for she has received double for all her sins from the hand of G-d. A voice calls out in the wilderness, 'Clear the way of G-d; make a straight path in the desert, a road for our G-d...the glory of G-d will be revealed, and all flesh together will see that the mouth of G-d has spoken..."

This is our prayer, and our aspiration and goal: That the time of Jerusalem's consolation has arrived.

Rabbi Chaim Richman