Clowns of This Generation

Precis: Clowns of the Generation is an earthy phrase denoting elements of society that are (mostly) non-criminal, yet can nevertheless do a great deal of damage. Clowns are superficial and have no sense of the depth and continuity of human life. The opposite of the Clowns? – Those whose consciousness spans all generations and who are constantly seeking the Face of God.


Who are the Clowns of the Generation?

As a Tora concept, we meet them for the first time in Rashi’s commentary on the first verse of Parshat Toldot, Breshit [Genesis] 25;19.

As a real life phenomenon, they are everywhere – hopefully more in the social media than in your real life.

These Clowns should not be confused with the joyous and funny people in your life, who are a very good thing.

The Talmud tells the story of Rabi Beroka who was with Eliyahu haNavi [Elijah the Prophet] in the crowded market place of BeLapat. Rabi Beroka asked Eliyahu if any of the people in the market were Bnei Olam haBa – Children of the Coming World (that is to say, those who have merited life in the world that is coming, having safely navigated their path through the chaos of the world we currently inhabit).

At first, Eliyahu answered that no such persons were in sight. Later on, he suddenly pointed to two rather ordinary-looking men, going about their business in the market. Those two, said Eliyahu, are Children of the World to Come.

So Rabi Beroka ran over to them and asked them, What is your occupation?

They replied, We are happy men, and we make others happy. When we see people who are depressed, we cheer them up by joking with each other.

The bitter and mocking laughter of Clowns, on the other hand, is something very different. But in what way different?

Here is what we are told of the Clowns, in Rashi’s commentary mentioned above:

Rashi is commenting on the verse in which the Tora states: These are the generations of Yitzhak [Isaac] the son of Avraham; Avraham begat Yitzhak.

Rashi asks: Why the seeming redundancy in the statement? If we are told that Yitzhak is Avraham’s son – then why tell us the obvious: that Yitzhak’s father was Avraham?

Rashi answers: Sarah was married to Avraham many years before Yitzhak was born. The Clowns of the Generation therefore reported that Avraham was not the real father of Yitzhak: Avimelech was the real father.

Disappointingly for the Clowns, however, it became apparent over time that Yitzhak’s face was a replica of Avraham’s; and this is why the Tora stresses that Avraham was the father of Yitzhak. The Clowns of the Generation were in this matter thus thwarted, and had to turn their attentions to something else.

So what can we learn from Rashi’s commentary about the Clowns – in that generation and in this?

First of all, the Clowns of the Generation are primarily concerned with precisely that – their own particular Generation: the arbitrary span of years in which they find themselves. They have no true sense of where they came from – or where they are going to, either.

In our present day, the Clowns are the Communists. Tradition offends them. “History is bunk,” said Henry Ford. Shimon Peres, too, is at pains to downplay the relevance of history and destiny in human affairs.

The second thing we can learn about Clowns (closely connected to the first) is that they are impressed by the superficial. Only the gaudy externalities are important to them. No inner meaning exists. The Clown is primarily concerned with appearances; his business is to mask the true nature of things.

In our present day, the Clowns are the media. They breathlessly report momentous events; urgently presenting the external face of things, while grinning and grimacing every way they can in order to distort their true significance.

What is the antithesis to the Clowns of the Generation?

In the Book of Tehilim is written: These are the generations of those that seek you, Yaakov [Jacob], who seek your face.

So here is the antithesis to the clowns of this generation: the continuous and noble fellowship of all Generations; those not interested in masks, but in seeking the true Face of God.

In Conclusion

I have offered my take on Clowns of the Generation. If you have further, or different, musings on this concept, please leave your comment!


Rabi Beroka

The conversation of Rabi Beroka with Eliyahu haNavi is in the Talmud, Taanit 22a.


Avimelech is mentioned in the Tora on three separate occasions, in connection with both Avraham and Yitzhak. He is a kind of irritant, or catalyst, whose precise role is not well understood.

Those that seek you…

These are the generations of those that seek you, Yaakov [Jacob], who seek your face. Tehilim [Psalms] 24;6.

This verse is very artfully constructed. Read superficially, it could be construed as referring to one particular generation. But the verse contains hints and ambiguities that point to a trans-generational interpretation.

Dor Doreshav [generation of those that seek him] is a play on words, that implies multiple generations.

The word Sela at the end of the verse denotes forever.

Does the verse mean that we are seeking the face of Yaakov? If so, Yaakov is quintessentially the man who spans generations, who never dies. Or does the verse mean that we are seeking the face of God? If it does, the God we are here seeking is the God of History.


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2 Responses to Clowns of This Generation

  1. karen guth says:

    What about Purim? Are our masks necessary sometimes in seeking God?

    This is a very short piece by Marcel Marceau that also “speaks” to the issue of masks. Perhaps the masks that we wear are a way to relate to each other, but to get closer to God we must remove them- if it is possible- watch this brilliant performance.

  2. eli orbach says:


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