“I said to myself, “Come now, I will mix [wine] with joy and experience pleasure”; and behold, this too was vanity. Of laughter, I said, “[It is] mingled”; and concerning joy, “What does this accomplish?”” (Ecclesiastes 2:1-2)
Rashi comments: Of laughter, I said, “[It is] mingled” – mixed with weeping and sighs…
What a morbid view of the world! Is King Solomon, the wisest person in the world, telling us that there is no such thing as real joy or real laughter?
On this verse, the midrash (Kohelet Rabah) brings a story that teaches us the same idea, that all laughter is mingled with sorrow. Elisheva bat Aminadav is of the same generation as Aaron and Miriam. She is born to a good family in the tribe of Judahand she has an impressive brother, Nachshon ben Aminadav. He has the courage to be the first to jump into the sea of reeds, at which point G-d splits the sea. He is also prince of the tribe of Judah. Elisheva marries Aaron, Moshe’s brother.
The midrash (Zevachim 102a) discusses the day of the dedication of the sanctuary, “Elisheva bat Aminadav had five joys over the rest of the daughters of Israel on this one day: her brother in law (Moshe) was king, her husband (Aaron) high priest, her son deputy high priest, her grandson (Pinchas) high priest for the army, her brother a tribal leader.” Yichus, nachas, what more could one want? But this is not the end of her story. The midrash continues, “and she was in mourning for her two sons”. On that joyous day, her two eldest sons, Nadav and Avihu, enter the sanctuary to offer incense without permission and are killed by Divine fire. All her joy turns to mourning.
In the midrash Elisheva is the one who, even though she has it all, can’t have it all. The same midrash is brought in Vayikra Raba (Parasha 20), prefaced with the following: Israelwill never really have “simcha” (joy) in this [pre-Messianic] world. Wherever simcha is discussed for the Jewish people, it is always in the future tense. (Note: Yismach Moshe – Moshe will be joyful – from our Shabbat prayers). Even G-d, if it were possible to say so, will not enjoy this world until the future when He will enjoy the deeds of the righteous.
If we expect perfect happiness in the here and now, we can expect to be disappointed. Our sages see Elisheva’s story as a symbol for that idea. If, on the other hand, we build towards a happy future, success is attainable. There will be a time when there will be perfect happiness, for G-d and the Jewish people.
The perfect joy that wedding organizers promise, according to the Elisheva script, will elude us. The truth is, though, that even if it is perfect, it is not everything. What we really want, I hope, is for a loving marriage that grows and matures through the years into a love that lasts beyond the grave. Similarly, for all our hopes, we pray that the best is yet to come.