Ridicule often checks what is absurd, and fully as often smothers that which is noble. — Sir Walter Scott
God created the Garden of Eden, a divinely organized habitat where Man wanted for nothing. Adam and Eve enjoyed a blissful existence. There was only one law to maintain their pristine lives: don’t eat from the forbidden fruit. Simple. Straightforward. The punishment was also fairly easy to understand: death. Any sane, rational being would do everything in their power to stay far away from the forbidden fruit. Yet the serpent managed to convince Eve to partake of the fruit. He convinced Eve to doom herself, her husband, and all of future humanity for that matter, to millennia of pain, hardship, suffering, and mortality itself.
How did the serpent manage to overcome the natural sense and self-preservation of a human being? The Chidushei HaRim on Genesis 3:1 explains the serpent’s methodology. The serpent mocked. It is as simple and as powerful as that. He merely mocked God. By talking about God in a mocking tone, in a mocking language, he succeeded in completely disarming Eve of any defenses and inhibitions that would have kicked in for her self-preservation.
The power of mockery and ridicule is such that it can cause a person to completely ignore logic, good sense and even suppress their own survival instinct. The Chidushei HaRim highlights that mocking easily turns someone from serving God, from pursuing what is right and what is noble, and instead turns one away from God, towards what is wrong and ignoble.
Joking has its place, but when it mocks what is good, what is healthy, what is noble, and what is sacred, the ridicule can easily destroy those precious commodities and supplant them with the exact opposite.
May we guardedly reserve the dangerous weapons of mockery and ridicule for those few things that truly deserve it. One banishment from the Garden of Eden was enough.
To the memory of Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler z”l.