Nursery can be a challenge for many. It is, after all, a first time experience. Once, in a nursery in Israel, two boys got into a fight. The Ganenet- nursery teacher, quickly separated the two, holding one with one hand and holding the other with her other hand. The teacher proclaimed with an authoritative shout “where do you boys think you’re at, the Knesset?!” (Israeli congress). Apparently, the Israeli members of the Knesset are famously known for their bickering during their legislative sessions. Although it is a knock on the government, it was quite humorous. (Paraphrased from an article in the New York Times)
Knock on the government?! That sounds familiar, we do it all the time in this country. Why not?! We’re living in a democracy. Isn’t it beautiful?! Here we have the gift of “freedom of speech”. We can use humor to practice this wonderful ability. WE LAUGH OUT LOUD. This is our freedom of expression.
Humor is infectious. The sound of roaring laughter is far more contagious than any cough, sniffle, or sneeze. Children untill age seven laugh approximately 300 times a day. Us boring grown ups laugh only, at most, 10 times a day.
Laughter is good for your health
- Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.
- Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.
- Laughter triggers the release of endorphin, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphin promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
- Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems
have always used humor. It was and still is an integral part of our culture. Where ever we go there will always be our beloved comedians. Jewish humor will never die.
Why? Because we are the wandering Jews. It’s tough being an immigrant and the difficulty adjusting to a new life can be very challenging and many times lead to depression. Using humor makes light of one’s own plight. The immigrants make fun of their host country’s customs and way of life. Their insecurities are shared by their own countryman in a humorous way. Humor lightens your burdens, inspires hope, connects you to others.
Humor is a tool
Ravah, a famous scholar in the times of the Talmud, would always start off a shiur -lecture with a joke. He said, and I paraphrase, “it puts people in a relaxed mode causing them to be more receptive”.
Jewish existence would not have been possible without laughter. Our sages mention the pride and joy of the Kiyor- lavorwhich the Kohanim would use to wash their hands in the Tabernacle. It was made out of the mirrors that were contributed by our righteous mothers who beautified themselves in order that our fathers, who would come home from being persecuted and overworked, they would find their wives attractive and have relations with them in order to have children.
The Sages tell us that the wives would playfully make the husbands look in the mirror and say “who looks, worse me or you”. They would make light and find humor in a morbid situation. The humor and laughter between them would draw them closer to each other and bond them as husband and wife.
Like everything else
in life, laughter, though a strong therapeutic and vital tool, can be also destructive.
When “the barrel of the gun”, the humor, is aimed at you, it’s not so funny anymore. It belittles people who are being laughed at. A practical joke can be cruel and hurtful. The response and defense of a person initiating the practical joke is often “ah he’s too sensitive, he can’t take a joke”.
HUMOR CAN BE A DESTRUCTIVE WEAPON. It defuses any authority. The late night talk shows grill politicians on their nightly opening stand up comedy routine.
The only politician, in the last fifty plus years, who not only withstood but enhanced his status through humor was John F Kennedy. He had a sharp and clever wit which he mastered and displayed at the Presidential press conferences.
There have been many Presidents who were left for dead by comedians. One such example was Gerald Ford. Being the butt of all the jokes cost him dearly in his bid for reelection. Ford, a high school football star who later was offered to play professional football for the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers, was made fun of and was “portrayed” as a bumbling, absent-minded, clumsy fool, by comedian Chevy Chase on Saturday Night Live. The skit made such an impression and implanted the image of Ford tripping where ever he went, that people actually believed him to be like that.
Humor was the lethal weapon Korach used. In this week’s Parsha. Korach who felt slighted by Moshe, the leader of the Jewish people, for not being appointed a higher position, rebelled against the hierarchy. He successfully used humor to soften and minimize Moshe’s authority.
Korach took aim at Moshe’s ruling on Tzitzit. One blue string of TECHELET is required to be included un the knots along with the other white strings. After Moshe taught the people the laws of Tzitzit (Bamidbar 15: 38-41) Korach delightfully inquired “if the garment is entirely of Techelet (sky blue wool) is it exempt from putting a thread of techelet on the fringes or does the obligation remain?” Replied Moshe, “still one must attach techelet”. Said Korach, “a garment that is entirely techelet is not exempt, yet 4 threads of techelet exempt the entire garment”. Then Korach asked, “if a house is filled with Torah scrolls, is it exempt from a Mezuza?” “It nonetheless requires a Mezuza” replied Moshe. Said Korach, “the entire Torah which contains 275 weekly portions does not exempt a house, yet the one portion of the Mezuza does? Surely these highly irrational things were not commanded by G-d, but rather you must’ve invented them yourself”.
Korach cleverly presented these ideas with humor, which defused the message and law of Tzitzit, and for that matter, weakened Moshe as a leader. Korach’s delivery, an essential part of a comedians success, was masterfully on the mark.
Making light of the Israeli Knesset by insinuating that they constantly fight, lowers their stature and diffuses their power. One might think that it’s a harmless remark said merely in jest. However, a statement with a little humorous jab has a more lasting and powerful effect that one would give credit for.
There is a famous Psalm, namely shir hama’alot, which many recite before bircat hamazon-grace after meal. In the psalm it says “AZ YEMALEH SECHOK PEENU”- then are mouths will be filled with laughter. There is a beautiful insight into the meaning of the phrase and a deeper understanding of laughter.
“Then” is referring to when the MASHIACH will arrive. We are saving the best for last. It is referring to that great feeling, the ultimate knee slapper when one laughs till it hurts. If one notices, when one laughs really hard, he begins to tear. Ever wonder why?
Life is not so easy, as one realizes. One has many things to accomplish and rectify in this difficult world. A world which witnessed much destruction: the destruction of our Temple, Adam’s sin, the golden calf, the Holocaust etc. Nevertheless we are allowed to laugh. And sometimes we can laugh out loud!!. However, the laughter sensation is limited. After reaching a certain point in the height of the laughter, it automatically switches to tears. Our soul is sending us a message. It’s a reminder to us that it is not the ultimate AZ YEMALEH SECHOK laughter; we still have to accomplish and tackle life’s obstacles and there is still the destruction that we have to fix. There is still life to live.
However one day, as we say in the psalm, we will laugh out loud with no interruption, no tears, rather a full laugh and feel the ultimate joy. Amen
This (as well as last weeks) article was written with the consultation of Dr. Robert Goldman Psychologist at Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim and Rabbi Yossi Bilus. Special thanks to Esther Matmon.