Nedarim51: What a Party!

By: Rabbi Jay Kelman |

It is not uncommon for someone to lose their job due to something stupid they do at an office party. People are much more apt to let their guard down at parties, something that can come back to haunt them. Yet even before one gets to the party there is great potential for discord, beginning with the invitation list. With Tisha BAv just behind us we are most cognizant how disastrous inviting the wrong person to a party can be.

"Rebbe [Yehuda Hanassi] made a wedding feast for his son Shimon" (Nedarim 50b). This was no plain wedding feast. The Gemara tells us the wedding cost "24,000 myriad dinars" that is 2,400,000 dinar[1]. Even if such is an exaggeration it was clearly a most lavish wedding as befits the son of Rebbe Yehuda Hanassi[2]. Anyone who was anyone would have been invited and thus we understand that Bar Kappara who was left off the list of invited guests was none too thrilled. He issued a biting comment "If it is thus with those who transgress His will how much more so with those who perform His will". If Rebbe who is so insensitive to scholars can be rewarded with so much wealth how much greater will the reward be for those who are truly righteous. 

Rebbe upon hearing this invited[3] Bar-Kappara to the wedding. That was enough to get back in his good graces and Bar-Kappara now exclaimed "If it is thus with those who do His will in this world, how much more so [will it be] in the world to come!' 

The commentary attributed to Rashi explains Rebbe's not inviting Bar-Kappara was not meant as a slight but rather was due to the great sense of humour Bar-Kappara had. Rebbe, who suffered from an intestinal disease, (Bava Metzia 85a) was afraid Bar-Kappara would make him laugh and laughing caused him great pain. It was for this reason - and one can argue as to the validity of such an argument - that he did not invite Bar-Kappara. When he found out how hurt Bar-Kappara was he promptly invited him in spite of the fact that he might suffer pain as a result. 

Such an interpretation seems hinted at in the Gemara which in the next piece informs us that Rebbe told Bar-Kappara not to make him laugh and if he complies he will give him forty bushels of wheat[4]

Yet such an explanation does not sit well with others. To them it is inconceivable that Bar-Kappara would say such harsh words regarding the leading sage of Israel, the one who edited the Mishna, just because he was not invited to the wedding. We thus must look for another explanation as to why Rebbe did not invite Bar-Kappara to the wedding.

Rav Yaakov Reiser in his responsa Shevut Yaakov #182[5] explains that Rebbe and Bar-Kappara, living in the late second century, actually are debating the proper attitude towards life after the destruction of the Temple. The Gemara quotes the view of Rav Yochanan in the name Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai that "it is forbidden to fill our mouths with joy in this world" (Brachot 31a). The world has too much sadness and we have suffered too much to have absolute unrestricted joy. However this teaching is limited, or perhaps eliminated, regarding simcha shel mitzva, the joy of performing a mitzva, of which bringing joy to the bride and bridegroom ranks most high.

Despite the joy felt by all and the mitzva aspect of the wedding, Rebbe was of the opinion that nonetheless weddings after the destruction need to be tempered - something we do today by breaking a glass. By inviting Bar-Kappara who was a masterful badchan, jester, bringing joy to all, Rebbe felt the line separating permissible joy to excessive joy would be crossed.

Bar-Kappara felt differently. In performance of a mitzva there should be no restraints to the joy we feel. This, the Shevut Yaakov argues, is the same argument Rabbi Akiva had with his colleagues who upon seeing the Temple ruins burst out in tears while Rabbi Akiva laughed (Makkot 24b). Here too the Gemara uses the expression "if it is thus with those [the Romans]  who transgress His will how much more so with those [the Jewish people] who perform His will". This is what Bar-Kappara was referring to when he was not invited. One can and should laugh all you want - there is a great future awaiting (and you can invite me to the wedding).


When Rabbi Akiva's explained to his great rabbinic colleagues how and why he is laughing they responded "Akiva you have comforted us, Akiva you have comforted us". And hearing the comment of Bar-Kappara, Rebbe invited him to the wedding. There is a time a place for us to fill our mouths with joy. May we soon merit such a time.

[1] As we have noted in the past great scholarship is much easier when there is great wealth. Many of the great works of scholarship have come when people had little to worry about financially - the Ramah and the Netziv to list just two such examples. What is amazing is that many were able to produce works of greatness despite their lack of wealth, at times even as they lived in poverty.


[2] Those blessed with great wealth are meant to make use of G-d's blessings to help others and also to enjoy it themselves. Sadly many people lacking such wealth often feel embarrassed and spend beyond their means leading rabbis of the past to  enforce sumptuary laws limiting spending on smachot. Such attempts in recent  times have failed - as it is flies in the face of the modern way of thinking. 


[3] This in marked contrast to the anonymous host of the "Kamtza banquet" who refused to let Bar-Kamtza stay even when he offered to pay for the entire banquet (Gittin 56a). The names in these two stories is most suggestive. Kamtza means to grab, to think only of oneself whereas Kappara means to offer atonement. Atonement is achieved when we concern ourselves with the feelings of others.

[4] Apparently he did not comply as his actions brought laughter to Rebbe. However when Rebbe admonished him he explained that he did not intend for his actions to cause laughter - only the great ones can ply their trade without even trying. Curiously the Gemara does not record whether Rebbe then gave him the wheat (Nedarim 51a).

[5] This is the last of his responsa despite the fact that "this is not its place. However in order to end with words of a story and a good thing I write it here."