Tuesday, September 22nd 2020   |



Comedian Jerry Seinfeld once said that “the greatest Jewish tradition is to laugh. The cornerstone of Jewish survival has always been to find humor in life and in ourselves.”

This view finds classical support in the Talmudic account of Rabbi Broka, the Sage who encountered Elijah the Prophet in a marketplace (Taanit 22A). Availing himself of Elijah’s unbounded, transcendent wisdom, Broka asked the Prophet if, among the vendors and shoppers in the crowd, there was anyone destined for eternal reward in the World-to-Come. Elijah identified two such individuals. Broka approached them and inquired: What was their vocation? What acts of righteousness… what pattern of piety had secured them God’s blessing in the Hereafter?

“We are jokesters,” they explained. “Through our joking, we bring happiness to those who are sad.”

During these sometimes somber days of introspection, repentance, reconciliation, and forgiveness, remember Isaac – who figures prominently in the High Holy Day Torah Readings. The only Patriarch not to undergo a name change, Abraham and Sarah’s beloved son was called “Yitzchak” in tribute to his parents’ laughter (Genesis 17:17, 18:12).

The Psalmist insists: “Yoshev Ba-Shamayim Yischak – God, enthroned in Heaven, laughs!” (Psalms 2:4)

In a similar spirit, G.K. Chesterton wrote: “Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly.”

Joking is eminently Jewish… and humor is heavenly.

(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouder is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the former National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)

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