Off the Pulpit

Foolish Advice

“The first service a child doth his father is to make him foolish.” So wrote the 17th century poet George Herbert.

In the Midrash, we are told of a man who left a strange provision in his will (Mid. Ps. 92:13). The will left everything to his only child, his son, but conditionally: the son could not inherit “until he became a fool.”

No one could figure out the meaning of the will, including the son’s Rabbi. So he went to consult a greater authority, Rabbi Joshua ben Karcha. There he saw through the window that Rabbi Joshua was on all fours, a reed sticking out of his mouth, being pulled along by a child. He soon realized it was Rabbi Joshua ben Karcha’s small daughter and the rabbi was pretending to be a horse.

When asked about the will, the sage instantly responded: “What you just saw is your answer.” The will meant the son could not inherit until he had children. For living with adults alone can induce a seriousness that is really foolish.