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Sefardim have a practice (custom?) to laugh during habdalah. When I asked the reason for this practice I was told that it was "to confound the satan". I assume it has something to do with Eliyahu/Moshiach coming motzei shabbos (hence all the malave malka songs about eliyahu) and "az yimaleh s'chok pinu". My question is as follows:

  1. What does "confuse the satan" really mean? If Eliyahu comes the Satan should see it; if not, not.
  2. What is accomplished for us by confusing him? Does that mean he doesn't do his job? If so, when does he resume being Satan?
  3. Why don't we laugh at other times that are auspicious for the coming of Moshiach?

(See this related question.)

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Interesting that you were told that as a reason. I also have that minhag (by tradition from my mother's side of the family), and was told that it is in order to begin the week with simchah. –  Alex May 15 '12 at 15:09
    
@Alex to be clear I was only told the "to confuse the satan" part, the rest I surmised on my own (so it could be totally incorrect). –  Identitytheft-Dave May 15 '12 at 15:14
    
As Japanese Shinto rituals may have been influenced by Judaism, perhaps their waraiko laughing ritual is also derived from a Jewish custom. If so, the custom of laughing during havdalah may date back to at least the Middle Ages. –  Fred May 17 '12 at 5:18

3 Answers 3

I believe this is related to the concept of the importance of laughter in dealing with sad or difficult situations as embodied by Rebbi Akiva. As shabbat leaves it is a sad time; laughter is our way of showing that we are taking a broader view and that we know that 'az yimaleh s'chok pinu', eventually we will be able to laugh with full abandon. This ability, which confused even the sages of Rebbi Akiva's age, fully confounds the Satan whose entire tactic is to make man focus on immediate gratification.

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To extend this answer in order to include point #3 in the question, I would say that coming out of shabbat is when we gain that broader perspective as shabbat is m'ein olam haba. Which is why we are able to laugh only on motzei shabbat as opposed to other times. –  user1520 May 24 '12 at 13:31

Inspired by Adam Mosheh's answer:

The Gemara teaches (Beitzah 16a):

Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said: On Shabbos eve, the Holy One Blessed be He places an extra soul into a person, and on the morrow of Shabbos, they take it from him, as it says (Sh'mos 31:17), "He rested and was refreshed (shovas vayinafash)" - now that he has rested, woe, a soul is lost (vai avda nefesh)!

In fact, the purpose of the b'samim at havdalah is to attempt to revitalize the person after being weakened from suffering this devastating loss (Rashbam, Pesachim 102b, s.v. uShmuel) and/or enduring the "stench of Gehinnom" that is present on motz'ei Shabbos (Bach, Orach Chaim 297:1).

The Gemara teaches that a sigh or groan (such as that suggested by the above quote from Beitzah 16a) weakens the spirit and "breaks" either half the body or the whole body (K'suvos 62a). Reish Lakish holds that fasts would not be declared for motz'ei Shabbos because people were weakened from having lost their extra soul and would be endangered by fasting (Ta'anis 27b).

The Yerushalmi (B'rachos 2:6) teaches that the Satan prosecutes bish'as hasakanah. Perhaps we are therefore more susceptible to the Satan's prosecution on motz'ei Shabbos. The minhag of laughing during havdalah may serve to avert this possibility by convincing the Satan that we are not weakened after all.

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Maybe because when shabbat ends it is a terrible thing in some sense. Shabbat is supposed to be eternal, but it ends, so k'veyachol it seems like Hashem is apparently no longer in charge of things. So we laugh in order to confuse the Satan, who would accuse us of having thought that Hashem was not in charge of the world. Because we are supposed to be happy always and recognize that Hashem is in fact in charge always. As proof to this, I can show you the ReM"A, who says on the first siman of O"C shiviti hashem lenegdi tamid, and on the final siman (hilchot purim) v'tov lev mishteh tamid. If we do not confuse him, then he will testify against us that we did not believe that really Hashem is He Who is in charge of this world, and that we are happy despite something happening that is seemingly bad.

It is a tefillah that Eliyahu should come. He doesn't actually come every week at havdalah, AFAIAA.

Who says that only sefaradim should laugh during havdalah?

Maybe why we don't laugh at other times that are auspicious for the coming of Moshiach is because then we should be hopeful and not joyous. I'm not sure about part 3 of the question. Sorry.

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