Sign In Forgot Password

From the Rabbi -  Mar 14, 2024

Rabbi Chaitovsky

Studies have shown that people with a sense of humor have more positive moods, fewer negative moods, and an increased satisfaction with life in general. Laughter is beneficial for mental health and has physical health benefits as well - it can relax muscles, improve blood circulation, reduce blood pressure, and enhance respiration.

Dr. Rod Martin, who meticulously studied the psychology of humor for over three decades, distinguished between different categories of humor, some of which can be beneficial to the self or others, while others can be damaging. Affiliative humor, used to lighten the mood, to make the self or others feel better, is psychologically beneficial. But when it is used to put down the self or others, through sarcasm, teasing, derision, or ridicule, it can be psychologically damaging.

The Talmud (Ta’anit 22a) relates a story about Rabbi Berokah Hoza’ah who was walking through the marketplace when he met Elijah the Prophet. Rabbi Berokah asked Elijah if there was anyone in the marketplace who merited a share in the World to Come. Elijah identified two average looking individuals.

Wondering what it was that earned them their share in the World to Come, Rabbi Berokah asked them their occupation. They replied that they were jesters and when they see people who are sad they cheer them up with a good joke. The Sages appreciated the healing power of humor and the potential reward one receives for using this power to heal others.

In stark contrast, a paradigm of aggressive humor is the scoffer (leitz). Our tradition offers many statements which caution against becoming a scoffer. The impulse of the scoffer is to be cynical and sarcastic, denigrating and dismissing anything of significance.

Parshat Pekudei provides a detailed—and what at first glance seems unnecessary—accounting of all of the material used to construct the Tabernacle in the desert. The Midrash offers a backstory, which suggests the context for this detailed account. Moshe overheard a conversation between two scoffers. One pointed to the robust size of Moshe’s neck and thighs, accusing Moshe of eating and drinking in excess, as he had more means and wealth than the rest of the nation. “Of course he is rich. He is responsible for all of the money collected for the Tabernacle and there is no oversight,” his friend responded. “What do you expect?”

It is remarkable that someone would accuse Moshe of stealing from the funds raised for the mishkan, the House of God, especially after having successful bargained Yet, this is the negative and debilitating power of cynicism and scoffing. This aggressive type of humor against others, may get a short-lived good laugh, but it damages relationships, and is corrosive to living a meaningful life.

Humor is clearly a double edged sword. It can be positive and it can be negative. Let us always seek to harness the power of affiliative humor to enhance our psychological and spiritual well-being.

Shabbat shalom…and see you in shul

Thu, April 18 2024 10 Nisan 5784