Why Rabbi Akiba laughed

Rabban Gamliel, R. Eliezer son of Azariah, R. Joshua and R. Akiba[1] were journeying together across the country. They heard a great noise in the Emperor's palace in Rome, although they were still 120 Sabbath leagues (tehum Shabbat[2]) away from it.

Three of the rabbis began to weep, while R. Akiba began to laugh. They turned to R. Akiba and said: "Why do you laugh?"

And he replied: "Why do you weep?"

"Behold, these heathens are worshiping idols and yet they are living in peace and comfort, whilst we Jews have seen our sanctuary burned, and we are lying under the heel of the heathen. Is there not reason for us to weep?"

Then R. Akiba said: "For the very same reason do I laugh and rejoice, for I say to myself: If God is showing so much mercy to these people, how much more will He show unto us! This is why I laughed."



[1] Palestinian tannaim (teachers, students) who were active following the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE. [Back]

[2] the distance one is permitted to walk on the Sabbath. [Back]

This story is found in Ma'aseh Book (JPS, 1934), a book of Jewish tales and legends translated from the Judeo-German by Rev. Dr. Moses Gaster of London. Dr. Gaster (b.1856 in Rumania; d.1939 in England), distinguished rabbi, orator, and Zionist leader, was also a scholar in many fields of Jewish learning, with a strong interest in folklore.

Gaster's story is based on a tale in the Babylonian Talmud, Mak. 24a. 



Subscribe to the JHOM mailing list for updates.

Contact us

Tell a friend