And so we finish another chapter of the Talmud…
WHEN IS THE TIME TO BE JOLLY?
The Gemara relates that when Rebbi Yirmeyah looked too happy, Rebbi Zeira tried to somber him by mentioning the virtues of melancholy. This “simple” incident in their lives actually reflects different approaches to life.
The CHAVOS YAIR (#152, cited at the end of Sefer Chafetz Chayim) suggests that Rebbi Zeira and Rebbi Yirmeyah each had a very different path in Avodat Hashem. They continually debated whether abstinence is commendable or forbidden.
Rebbi Zeira understood fasting and self-affliction as the correct way to achieve holiness. He would fast long periods and afflict himself with various forms of suffering to test his total devotion to Hashem (Bava Metzia 85a).
Rebbi Yirmeyah, on the other hand, was generally jolly. He ruled like those who maintained that a Nazir is called a Chotei (Nedarim 10a) and that it is forbidden for a person to afflict himself beyond the call of the Torah.
The Gemara in Nidah 23a; states how Rebbi Yirmeyah, in accordance with his path in Avodat Hashem, would try and break Rebbi Zeira’s somberness since he held that this was an incorrect path in Avodat Hashem. In our Gemara, Rebbi Zeira tried — unsuccessfully — to cool Rebbi Yirmeyah’s joyfulness, in accordance with his own path in Avodat Hashem.
I am perplexed that any one Rabbi would believe that his way was the only way (maybe I shouldn’t be!). Within Judaism there are many paths we can take to achieve holiness, we can learn Torah (and in many varied forms and with many different texts), we can do acts of loving kindness or, like the Rambam*, focus on the philosophical truth of Hashem’s existence – or of course a combination of these and other practices. We are all different human beings and need to find our own individual path to Godliness within the 4 amot of halacha.
* Mosheh ben Maimon (משה בן מימון), called Moses Maimonides and also known as Mūsā ibn Maymūn (Arabic: موسى بن ميمون), or RaMBaM (רמב”ם – Hebrew acronym for “Rabbi Mosheh Ben Maimon”), was a preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher and one of the most prolific and followed Torah scholars and physicians of the Middle Ages. He was born in Córdoba, Almoravid Empire (present-day Spain) on Passover Eve, 1135, and died in Egypt (or Tiberias) on 20th Tevet, December 12, 1204. He was a rabbi, physician, and philosopher in Morocco and Egypt.