Our view of the Galile

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Stand Up, Comedy- Tzav / Zachor 2014

Insights and Inspiration
from the 
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"

March 3rd 2014 -Volume 2, Issue 21 -11th of Adar 5774
Parshat Tzav/ Zachor/Purim

Stand Up, Comedy

Jackie Mason, Woody Allen,  Milton Berle, Jerry Lewis, Jerry Seinfeld, Bob Hope, Mickey Katz, Weird Al, Jack Benny, George Burns, George Jessel, Danny Kaye, Alan King, Jerome Lester 'Curly' Howard (Horwitz), Then of course, Yehudah Leib b’r Shlomo Natan ha-Levi, his brother Moshe, better known as Moe, and other brother, Shmuel, better known as Shemp; collectively  — none other than The Three Stooges. What is the common denominator? Jewish comedians. For a people that make up less than 2.5% of the population the fact that 70% of comedians are Jewish should tell you something very significant about our people. We figured out that we can get the gentiles to pay us for making them laugh and have been cashing in since… Just joking. (By the way, whether or not Rabbi Schwartz should be added to the aforementioned list I will leave to your own discretion).

In truth, however, there is definitely something remarkable about the impact the Jewish people have had on the world of humor. When one hears, “Cohen and Goldberg were walking down the street…” you begin to smile because you can already sense the inimitable overflowing Jewishness of the joke coming your way. The tradition of Jewish humor dates back to the earliest moments in Jewish history when God “ribbed” Adam (ouch!)  and continued into Talmudic times where we are told the sages would often begin their lectures with words of humor that would awaken their students’ interest. The time of year, however, when Jewish humor reaches its crescendo is always in the month of Adar when costumes, spiels, and jesting are the order of the month.

There are some topics though even in the comedic world that are somewhat taboo. Interestingly enough the Holocaust, that most calamitous of all tragedies to have befallen us in modern times and possibly ever, has been viewed as something that was meant to remain sacred. Zachor!  Remember! We have been raised with an understanding that we may never desecrate or trivialize the memory and the horrors of what our people have endured under the Nazi regime. It is then somewhat perplexing why Purim the precedent of the original Final Solution should be commemorated as the day of Jewish humor. Yes we survived and averted mass genocide but shouldn’t that be the cause of reflection rather than frivolity?

This week’s supplemental Torah reading always read before the holiday of Purim, dramatically calls our attention to the original Zachor -  the remembrance of the act of the nation of Amalek - our first attackers after the Exodus from Egypt . It has been widely agreed upon that the Nazis were descendent of Amalek.
Zachor! Remember what Amalek did to your way out from Egypt . That he happened to you on the way and struck those of you were weakest behind you when you were faint and exhausted, and he did not fear God. It shall be when Hashem your God gives you rest from all your enemies from around you in the land He will give to you as an inheritance to possess, you shall wipe out the (zecher) memory of Amalek from under the heaven- you shall not forget !

The connection between Haman and Amalek is not merely that he was descendent of Amalek and that he too tried to decimate the Jewish people. On a much deeper level, it represents the essence of Jewish survival and what our reaction to those threats should be. The threat of Amalek, the Talmud tells us, was to hit those weakest of us, not necessarily in the physical sense, rather in the area of faith in God. Amalek’s agenda was to shake up the world’s view of the Jewish people who have just come off this incredible high, having miraculously defeated and humiliated the greatest world power, Egypt . We were the “untouchables” - clearly a nation that had the Divine Hand watching out for us, and that was unbearable to Amalek. This nation therefore took it upon itself to remove from the world the sense of awe ! that was clearly prevalent from having witnessed the Hand of God.-to make light of that which was sacred, to destroy the potency of the greatest revelation of all time.

Their strategy was to hit those of the Jewish people who were the weakest, the ones complaining about the lack of water in the desert, the ones who could only look back at the “flesh pots of Egypt ”, the ones who forgot. By focusing their efforts on distracting these people from the incredible protection and power they were granted through their acts of faith, they sought to diminish the hand of God in the eyes of the world.
There are two types of humor, Amalekite humor and Jewish humor. Amalekite humor is known as  Leitzanut,  a term denoting mockery, distraction or -  in our vernacular - slapstick, comedy whose purpose is to minimize and detract from the realities of life. The source of this comedy that people find entertaining is the belief that nothing is sacred and anything goes. Jewish humor, or shall we say, Torah humor is quite the opposite. It is a focus on the small truths that we are afraid to deal with and recognize. Anyone that has heard a Jackie Mason routine walks out saying it’s so true. There is a sense upon hearing a Jewish joke that the nail has been hit on the proverbial head. To do battle with an Amalek and a Haman is to do battle with a force that seeks! to mock the sacred and distract us and the world from that which we must never forget. We overcome that force by engaging in that powerful weapon contained in the secret of Jewish humor. The power to reveal the not always apparent truth that we possess an incredible wellspring of faith that Hashem is looking out for us in all that we do.

It’s difficult sometimes to find that wellspring. We are sometimes so distracted with challenges that seem insurmountable: our jobs, relationships, and daily struggles. Yet Hashem has blessed us every year with a holiday of Purim, A holiday that possesses in it the power and weapon of our faith. We have the ability to laugh and joke about all that threatens us because we are tapping into the truth that we posses that there is a loving Father in Heaven who is carrying his children in his arms and protecting and assisting them in all they encounter. It is through the power of our humor that we reveal these truths and hope to eliminate the forces that seek to bring us down. May this coming week of Purim be filled with much light, happiness and joy as it was for our ancestors so long ago in Persia and as it has been celebrated in all Jewish homes since.

Have a very fun inebriated Purim,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz

No comments:

Post a Comment