pirkei avot 3:13 - How to Put Laughter and Frivolity in their Proper Place

This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah for her neshama.

Elisheva Maline
Rabbi Akiva used to say, "Laughter and frivolity draws a person toward promiscuity. Tradition is a safety measure for Torah, tithing -- a safety measure for wealth, oaths -- a safety measure for abstinence, and a safety measure for wisdom is silence.

As the era of prophets came to an end, the men of the great assembly gathered for a mass meeting; as they put their heads together, one stroked his beard and said, "Now that the age of open communication with Hashem (G-d) is ending, how can we come up with alternate measures by which we may serve the Creator of the universe?" When we had prophetic vision, it was like being able to view miles of landscape from the top of a mountain. After G-d removed our desire for idol worship, however, we lost this "extra" sight and with that, the ability to get down to brass tacks and nails, i,e, to know what G-d really wants. So things got a little murky. Argument over small differences of opinion sprang up. Over the years, trying to deduce G-d's will in any given situation, became trickier and trickier. Therefore, our sages of blessed memory fought to nip the problem in the bud by adding fences, a.k.a. safety measures, hence the adage, "Build a fence for the Torah."
The association with fences is they are there to either keep people out or in. For instance, Donald Trump has been crystal about the wall he plans to build on the border of America and Mexico; he wants to keep the illegal immigrants out. According to our sages, particularly Rabbi Akiva, without whom this mishnah would not exist, fences are meant to safeguard i.e. keep people in. Just like no responsible adult would allow a child to climb into a roller coaster without a seat belt, so to our Rabbis of yesteryear understood that if their future descendants were to have a fighting chance in maintaining a long term relationship with Hashem, people would need to build fences.

What should a fence look like? I'll explain with a simple parable: there was a child who liked cheese. He liked it so much, in fact, that he had an extremely difficult time saying no whenever he passed by a certain pizza place that sold pizza, even if he had just eaten meat and was required to wait a certain amount of hours. Therefore, his mother made a rule, "Honey, I forbid you from even entering the block where the pizza place is. I don't want you to, G-d forbid, end up slipping up. Now, ask yourself if the mother is cruel or kind. She is saying no to a potentially pleasurable time. However, by saying no to the child and setting strong boundaries, she is giving the child a chance to strengthen: you are helping him avoid temptation.       

When Rabbi Akiva wrote out the above mishnah, he had a similar idea in mind. Good time management is all about prioritizing. When I spend my day working toward specific goals: making the deadline at work, cooking dinner for my family, making sure I get in a little exercise, I find that there is less time for sitting around and gossiping about the upcoming elections or what Kate Middleton wore last week. Every one of us has different needs and therefore, different formulas for how to become better versions of ourselves. However, Rabbi Akiva offered us a one size fits all option. There is room for every one of the above safety measures to fit into our daily routine.

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