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Keeping a sense of humor 

04/16/2020 09:26:05 PM


Shalom Lewis, Rabbi Emeritus

Imbedded in the Pesach story is a bit of humor. One of the instruments that brings low the Pharaoh, the mighty leader of Egypt, is Kermit’s ancestors. Frogs. Not dramatic, fire breathing dragons, but tiny, croaking reptiles from a lily pad. Years later, when Elijah engages in a debate with the prophets of Baal his attack on the idolaters is merciless sarcasm, riddled with humor. “Is your god taking a nap? Is he perhaps too old to hear your supplications? Is he doing something else? Purim, if understood properly is a sit com where a hapless Haman and his family are out-smarted at every turn by Mordechai and Esther. Kind of a Biblical Road Runner with people playing the roles of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner.
In rabbinic literature, we find similar episodes of ridicule and even divine laughter. I always said that God had a sense of humor. Across the years humor has been our tool of defiance when we had no army nor power. Our weapons were sharp words that diced and diminished our enemy. Our swords were mockery and our arrows clever taunts. In the final scene of Fiddler, after a pogrom, as Tevye and his family look back longingly at Anatevka, Goldie runs back in to sweep her house not wishing to leave it dusty for the next residents. Through the tears and the forced exile, the audience chortles. Dignity is maintained and we have the final laugh. Whatever the historical crisis, it was confronted with humor. A chuckle, even in the gloomiest of days, was the antidote to impotence and national calamity.
As the pandemic rages on, an unparalleled international catastrophe, we analyze the grim statistics. We wear gloves and masks. We mourn the departed. And yet, from out of the profound depths of tragedy, reliably, every five minutes on the internet comes a pandemic themed joke. Meme. Song. Parody. Cartoon. Shtick. Some irreverent, hysterically funny piece that we forward immediately to our friends in solitary. From somewhere within our soul we get the paradox but are unapologetic. A good eulogy makes us cry but it also makes us laugh even with an open grave before us. Shiva chat is tear filled but also funny memories of the deceased.
As we learn to cope with COVID 19 we dare not lose our sense of humor. Until they come up with a vaccine, we had better keep telling jokes. As Jews, we survived the darkness because of humor. As citizens of this afflicted planet, we can do no less.
Wed, June 3 2020 11 Sivan 5780