....walk into a bar. The bartender looks up and says, "What is this, a joke or something?"
Anyone who knows me knows that I have been blessed with the gift of a sense of humor. I am not talking about joke telling, because I can hardly remember any of the jokes I've been told. I am talking about the ability to elicit laughter from a situation. Yes, sometimes I get an eye roll from my 17 year old daughter Kaziah, but that's her job, and I usually deserve it. But more often she laughs, which was one of the things my wife Renée blessed her with at her baby naming, "May you always laugh at your father's jokes."
There is something deeply instrinsic to the human spirit about being joyous, as we learn from many Hasidic teachings. The Tanach and the Talmud are replete with humor, as I was reminded during a study session with my chevruta yesterday morning. In BT Taanit 22a is a story of Rabbi Baruqa, who one day happened upon the prophet Elijah in the marketplace. He asks the prophet, "Is there anyone among the people here in the marketplace who have a place in the World to Come?" Elijah answered that 'there is none." Later two men entered the marketplace and Elijah pointed them out, saying, "Those two will have a share in the World To Come". "Rabbi Bauqa asked the two men their occupations. "We are jesters" they replied, "when we see someone who is sad we cheer him up. When we see two people quarreling we try to make peace between them."
The Baal Shem Tov teaches that the job of these two merry-makers is to remind us of our true nature, to reactivate the passive aspect of the Divine that are lying latent in our deeds and words.
The "passive aspect of the Divine"? Why joy of course! What an occupation! What a calling!
Imagine a want ad: Jester needed, to use your sense of humor to unite with others; could be a person who is in a state of pain and despondency. Ability to unite a person to His blessedness required.
In his book "Pillar of Prayer", a recent translation of the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov on prayer, Menachem Kallus writes "using humor for a higher purpose and imbuing all of one's words with intentional significance" is, according to the Besht, an important priniciple.
What is this, a joke or something? It sure is - an important tool of Rebbe-craft.
Mark Novak is a "free-range" rabbi who lives in Washington DC and works, well, just about everywhere. In 2012 he founded Minyan Oneg Shabbat, home to MOSH (Minyan Oneg Shabbat), MindfulMOSH (Jewish mindfulness gathering), and