I’d Rather Be A Fool

You could say that Rabbi Nachman of Breslov was a Jewish self-help guru. He taught that one must avoid depression at all costs, even if it meant acting silly. Depression was distance from the Divine. Which was death to a Jew.

Breslov was a serious person. He knew the law. He starved himself, too, and regularly walked alone in the woods. His devotion was extreme and ascetic.

Still, he took the people as they were and loved them. He could handle the heavy stuff. They could not. He carried the load for them and simply asked them to feel joy in return. Joy does the rest.

Joy can be achieved through silliness. Fools feel free to be silly. Laugh, tell a joke, crack a smile.

Fools are limber. Their minds are relaxed enough to believe. Not inherently closed off, like skeptics and pessimists.

Thus Breslov wrote that fools are actually better off:

“It is better to be a fool who believes in everything than to be so clever that you do not believe in anything.

“If you believe in everything, some of your beliefs may be foolish but you will also believe in the truth.

“However, when a person is too clever and does not want to believe in anything, he may begin by ridiculing falsehood and folly but can easily end up so skeptical of everything that he even denies the truth.”

– Sichot Haran #103

I am not advocating that we act silly all the time. I am simply suggesting that we not dismiss foolishness as a tactic. Sometimes it gets you closer to where you need to go.

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Profile Photo Mark Hammer

Before I loaned it to a coworker who never returned it, I had a copy of the book Yiddish Proverbs, edited by Hanan Ayalti. One of my favorite sayings in it was “A fool goes to the baths and forgets to wash his face“. Naturally, it harkens back to a time when “the baths” were necessarily public, and a service one paid for, hot water not being something readily available to all in their homes. To make use of such a limited, but necessary, service and neglect to tend to one of the most central aspects of why one used it in the first place – hygiene and feeling clean – was not only wasteful, it was what fools did.

I’m automatically reminded of that proverb every time I’m in the shower, whether I want/need to think about it or not. I guess it is a helpful intrusive thought, if there is such a thing.

Being foolish IS a good thing, in the way that you and Rabbi Nachman describe. But one should never forget what your priorities are or be so distracted they are not tended to.