a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson
Radio Show Transcript - May 21, 2000
Rabbi Simon Jacobson: Hello, this is Simon
Jacobson and welcome to Toward a Meaningful Life. Were
on every Sunday from 6-7pm, 1050AM on WEVD.
Today, for a change of pace, I decided to choose
a lighter topic, but first I want to thank the listeners and
people who have written in following last weeks show on
women and womens issues and the previous show before that
So to balance it (as life should be balancedwith
a combination and chemistry of both intense and lighter periods),
some friends suggested that I do a show on Humor.
And that is, what is the role of humor in our lives, and by
extension, laughter. Particularly from a spiritual perspective,
we find humor is very much a part of our contemporary society
where comedywhich may even border on cynicismis
very much a part of the entertainment industry.
So what exactly is the role of humor in our lives
and how can it help us? Is there healthy humor? Unhealthy humor?
And what is the anatomy of humor and its relationship with us?
To begin, when you talk about humor, its
hard to be humorous because humor is often a spontaneous type
of thing, but if anyone has any personal experiences or anecdotes
where humor has served a role in their lives, even during hard
or trying times, please call in and share it with us.
To begin with, from a spiritual, Torah perspective,
there are references to humor in the Talmud, and particularly
one that stands out is the story where a rabbi (a sage and scholar)
asks Elijah the Prophet if anyone in the marketplace is going
to have the reward of a share in the World to Come.
Elijah points out two individuals who will have
a share in the World to Come. So the Sage goes over to these
two individuals and asks them what they do because he wanted
to know what caused them to earn that reward. And they said
they are comedians, badchanim in Hebrew: they
lift peoples spirits through their humor. By doing that,
as the Talmud puts it, it also brings peace between people.
In other words, they use humor to reconcile differences.
Its interesting that of all the people the
Talmud would choose to earn a share in the World to Come, it
would be comedians, people who make others laugh. Interestingly,
the Talmud continues and says that there was another person
Elijah said would have a share in the World to Come, and that
was a jail guard. In the time that there were totalitarian regimes,
jail guards would protect the people who were jailed and inform
the rabbis of impending decrees and so on.
So the contrast or parallel between a jail guard
and comedians is interesting. I once read somewhere that the
comparison is that someone who causes you to laugh is someone
who can, in a way, help to free you from your own prison. They
help you free yourself from depression or experiences that may
We see that when a person is able to laugh at
certain things, at certain experiences in life, that helps free
I think this Talmud is a very good point to begin
with. You see from this that humor has a very clear role that
is not just connected to immediate remedies, but that someone
can actually earn a share in the World to Come, in olam haba,
as an eternal reward for their soul because they made another
Thats something that each of us can take
to heart. Now, what exactly is this concept called humor?
You find in another place in the Talmud that before
one of the Sages would begin delivering his lesson, he would
begin with a joke, which he did in order to lighten the
hearts and open the hearts of the students.
As a matter of fact, the Zohar says something
even stronger, that without humor, there is no wisdom. Without
a sense of humor, one cannot really have wisdom. In other words,
to open up a mind, a heart, to truly be able to understand things,
humor plays a very significant role.
On the other hand, you definitely see how humor
can turn into cynicism. Thats whats called frivolous
humor, to the extent that I once remember receiving an
email from someone who wrote to me that in the Talmud it clearly
states in Jewish law that as long as the Messiah is not here,
as long as the world is not perfect, a person should not open
his mouth in laughter.
In other words, theres a prohibition against
laughing more than is necessary in this world that we live in,
which seemingly may contradict what we were just discussing,
but in truth, there are two types of humor.
Theres a humor thats frivolouswhere
youre either cynical or you laugh at other peoplea
humor that doesnt allow you to experience something transcendental,
that keeps us trapped.
On the other hand, when humor is part and parcel
of serving G-d, where it becomes something that helps you grow
and helps you become more G-dly, or make other people smile,
then thats a different story.
In other words, laughter and humor, simcha
in Hebrew, is part of serving G-d in a way that allows us
to experience something beyond ourselves. However, if its
humor that is self-indulgent, narcissistic, exclusionary, elitist
and the like, that is really a deterrent to anything spiritual.
So humor, like anything, can be abused or used
in a good way. To lead a meaningful life and to be able to find
purpose and solace, we need to be able to also learn the secret
of learning how to smile.
Sometimes life becomes so serious, so intense,
that smiling is a form of a release and a form of lightheartedness
where you dont always take yourself so seriously.
They say that theres a very fine line between
tragedy and comedyor as a cynic would put it, its
a tragedy if it happens to yourself. Its a comedy if it
happens to someone else.
But thats not what I want to say. Im
just citing that on a humorous note.
But the truth is, humor can play a very significant
role in a persons life, particularly when a person is
very intense. Then you need to be able to step back and sometimes
smile at yourself. In Yiddish theres an expression, A
mensch tracht un G-t lacht, which means, A
person thinks and G-d smiles. This means that sometimes
we make plans and were very intense about it and weve
dedicated our time to some activity, but G-d has other plans.
Sometimes you have to learn how to smile, which is probably
the easiest way to deal with a difficult situation.
I remember someone once wrote something called,
How to deal with getting fired from your job? Getting fired
from your job is often a very traumatic experience, because
besides the fact that it creates insecurity, its also
Some of you may remember Billy Martin, a former
manager of the Yankees. Martin had a love-hate relationship
with George Steinbrenner, the owner of the Yankees, and I I
think he was hired or fired six or seven times. Once he was
fired, Yogi Berra was hired to fill his shoes. Yogi Berra comes
to the managers office and sees on the desk two envelopes
from Billy Martin that say, To the new manager. Open only
in case of emergency.
Envelope number one said, In case of emergency
number one, and envelope number two said, In case
of emergency number two.
So he didnt touch them because there was
no emergency yet. The Yankees began winning and everything was
fine. As soon as they began losing, of course, Steinbrenner
began mouthing off to the newspapers. The managers seat
got hot and there was talk about Yogi Berra begin canned (that
was in Steinbrenners younger years when he was a little
bit more volatile), so Berra comes into the office and opens
up emergency envelope number one which says, Blame it
all on me (Billy Martin).
So Yogi Berra calls a press conference and says
that the reason the Yankees are losing is that the morale is
still low from the previous manager and they still have to get
into the groove.
And he buys a few weeks for himself, and of course
the Yankees begin winning again, so Steinbrenner cools down.
But a few months pass and they get into another
slump. This time its really serious because Steinbrenner
really wants the Yankees to win the pennant, so Yogi Berra comes
running into the office and opens up envelope number two. It
says: Prepare two envelopes.
This is a way of getting fired. Getting fired
can be a very demoralizing experience but here, by preparing
those envelopes, Billy Martin was using humor to help Yogi Berra
get ready to move on.
Humor has that power to defuse things and to lighten
things up. I want to emphasize that when I say humor I dont
mean frivolous, condescending or abusive humor where someone
may insult or hurt someone else at their expense for a cheap
Im talking about the kind of humor, as described
by the Talmud, that makes people smile, that lifts their spirits;
the type of laugh where everyones in a very serious mode
and then someone just breaks out into a smile.
Some situations are so ludicrous (I dont
want to call them tragic) but in a way so crazed, that you can
laugh at them. Thats the positive role that it plays,
as I cited the Talmud, opening up peoples hearts and spirits
to be a little more positive about things.
In Judaism theres the concept of ivdu
et Hashem bsimcha, to serve G-d with joy. Even
in situations that are seemingly difficult, joy can give you
the inner majesty and internal peace to not be completely demoralized
by them. You often find also that people with a good sense of
humor can also be very serious, because they have a certain
appreciation of the marrow, the mystery of life.
In a way, their seriousness side and their light
side both come from the same place. They have that type of understanding
of the human condition.
So lets go to the phones. I see we have
Stu Trivax on the line, a stand-up comic who comes to
my class. I mentioned this show to him and said that perhaps
he could call in and we could have a few minutes to talk about
So Stu, I think its quite appropriate to
have someone whos a master of humor
Stu Trivax: Well, thank you.
Jacobson: Stu Trivax, by the way, for those
of you who dont know, is an acclaimed stand-up comic.
Is that the official title you have?
Stu Trivax: Stand-up comic. Thats
Jacobson: Do you ever sit down and do comedy
or only standing?
Stu Trivax: I can do that too.
Jacobson: Anyway, Stu has appeared in different
films and on TV, I think youve been on the Tonight Show
with Jay Leno several times and many other shows. People probably
know you more by face than on radio, but nevertheless, thank
you for calling in.
So as an objective humorist, whats your
opinion on humor?
Stu Trivax: Well, I think it is a very
useful tool. I think any time, in a positive way, like you were
saying before, you can raise somebodys spirits, its
useful because life can be so difficult for most people, and
everybody has their ups and downs and their difficulties during
the day. If you can find some way to make them happy, or even
as you said just make them smile, it can have an effect for
the rest of the day or even longer. Even if it can just make
them cope a little bit more easily, or even make them see something
in a different way, that can be helpful.
Jacobson: Let me ask you, since you do
this professionally, do you see this as a personal thing as
well for you, or do you compartmentalize? The fact is, you may
make people smile and lift their spirits, but how do you balance
those two things in your own personal life? Is it part of your
spiritual growth, your own personal development?
Stu Trivax: I would say it carries over
into my daily activities. Recently Ive been spending some
time in a senior citizens home and some of the people
I come in contact with are unable to carry on a complete conversationthey
can be in their 90s and dealing with them can be difficultbut
I find if I smile at them I get a response. Very often they
will smile back. Even though theyre not speaking, they
see a bright face, a smiling face, and then sometimes the people
can speak a little or I can say something light or kid around
in a way that they can understand, and this really lifts their
spirits. A lot of these people are kind of sad during the day
because people dont really deal with them very much.
So even a little thing like that can help, and
if I can do that I really feel good about being able to use
my humor in that way to lift somebodys spirits in the
course of the day.
Jacobson: Did you ever have to get up there
and perform in a terrible mood?
Stu Trivax: Sometimes yes. Like everybody
else, you go to work and sometimes youre in a better mood
than other times. Sometimes Ive been preoccupied with
certain family situations that have been very difficult or health
problems that people in my family might have. But once you get
up on stage, especially in the situation where you have the
microphone in your hand, the lights are on and people are looking
at you, I think most professional comedians can focus on what
they have to do, and do the performance they need to do in that
Ive had some very, very good sets where
beforehand I wasnt feeling particularly funny.
Jacobson: Do you have any good humorous
stories about humor?
Stu Trivax: I have this one little story.
Its not my joke. Its a joke I heard which might
be apropos to the audience.
Four Jewish women in a restaurant and theyre
in the middle of lunch. A waiter comes by and says, Ladies,
is anything all right?
So humor is often based on something that might
be true. But with kind of a good-hearted warmth about it, I
think, affects people in a nice way.
Jacobson: How did you choose to do what
Stu Trivax: I think its something
that I was always drawn to. I was funny among friends, and especially
in New York City they have small clubs where you can go and
audition for two or three minutes. Because I was in a situation
where I had the opportunity to do that, I put some material
together and tried my hand it.
But being funny with friends and being funny on
stage is really very, very different. When youre on stage,
you really have to create an atmosphere that people who dont
know you can relate to and feel good about.
So that usually takes a bit of work.
Jacobson: For any aspiring stand-up comics
listening to us, what do you tell them if they say something
and people dont laugh?
Stu Trivax: Well, thats one of the
things you really have to get over, because I dont know
any comic whos been on stage who hasnt gone through
a situation like that. I think the main thing is to remain centered
and cool and not make more of it than it is and go on to your
next joke or whatever story youre going to say after that.
If you seem relaxed and calm and able to cope
with it, the audience will usually go with you and it wont
be that big a thing. But if they see you sweat or uncomfortable,
you really telegraph to them that things arent going well
and they pick up on that and then they reflect that back to
you which isnt so good.
Jacobson: So is comedy a good profession
for a good Jewish boy?
Stu Trivax: It can be. Actually, doing
stand-up comedy is good and its a lot of fun. Its
a little work. But the business aspect of show business is kind
of difficult so you have to balance the two.
Jacobson: Well, for some reason I find
that a lot of comedians are Jewish. Is that correct?
Stu Trivax: A lot of comedians are Jewish,
although now there are a lot more from different ethic backgrounds.
There are a lot of Hispanic and Black comics who are getting
into it. Especially with cable TV, and the popularity of comedy
for so many years around the country, a lot of people have been
trying their hand, and some of them have been very successful.
Jacobson: Finally, what would you say to
the listening audience here about humor. Not everyones
a stand-up comic. What message do you have?
Stu Trivax: I think if you can develop
whats funny about you in any situation with friends, co-workers
or anything like that where if something is a little tense or
a little awkward, you can say something in a way that would
relieve people or calm people down or make people see a lighter
side of something, I think it would be a very useful tool.
The trick is to balance it. You dont want
to say something thats going to be harsh or go over the
line or say something thats going to embarrass somebody
else, but at the same time, if you can just find the right words
or say it in the right way, you can be a great help to a lot
Jacobson: Do you have any final joke or
something youd like to share?
Stu Trivax: Well, I think you do a great
job. I really enjoy going to your classes and I think your humor
is sort of subtle so I really like hearing you speak. I would
just like to encourage people to check out one of your classes
on a Wednesday night. Its very uplifting and theres
humor throughout, and it can be a great tool to find your way
day to day in dealing with lifes ups and downs.
Jacobson: Well, Stu, I appreciate your
calling. And I see you have a very serious side as well.
Stu Trivax: I do. You were right about
thatabout seriousness and comedy coming from the same
Jacobson: So thanks again and keep making
people smile. And remember, you have a share in the World to
Come and may it also be in this world, a good share.
Stu Trivax: Well thank you. Im counting
Jacobson: Okay, bye, Stu. Lets go
to Reuvein Russell. Reuvein?
Reuven Russell: Thats me. Sholom
Aleichem Rabbi Jacobson. How are you doing?
Jacobson: Okay. This is great because I
think most of my friends are comedians. Reuven Russell, for
the listening audience, is an entertainer. I hear that youre
also known as Koko the Clown. Is that your pseudonym?
Russell: I do that for kids, thats
Jacobson: Or did you begin first as Koko
and then turn into Reuven Russell or the other way around?
Russell: Well you should know, Im
calling you right now from Milford, CT, from the home of my
mother and father, and my father happens to be Joey Russell.
I owe anything I say that gets a laugh to him, because in a
sense Im just like a nice Jewish boy going into his fathers
Jacobson: That can get a laugh.
Russell: Thats it. Hes been
making people laugh a lot longer than I have.
Jacobson: So tell me. Youre a comedian,
a clown, an actor. Youve done serious work as well, correct?
Jacobson: When youre living real
life, real life is inconsistent: some moments you can be serious,
tomorrow somethings funny. But in acting, how do you elicit
those two polar extremes?
Russell: The truth is, I think we try to
find humor in everything. I mean, first of all, people say that
my name alone, Reuven Russell, well they say, what kind of a
name is Russell for a nice Jewish boy? And I tell them that
my name wasnt originally Russell. My father was born Phillip
Feitelberg, and before he was married, he changed it to Joey
Russell, also for stage purposes, because in those days, it
wasnt the in thing like it is now. Now you have your Jerry
Seinfelds and your Paul Reisers. Now to be ethnic is okay, but
back in the times of the Second World War, you know, Ladies
and gentlemen, lets have a big hand for the comedian,
Phillip Feitelberg. It wasnt such a great thing.
So he changed it to Joey Russell. So Im
Reuven Russell, and when anyone ever comes up to me with the
last name Russell and asks if were related, I say, I
dont know, what was your name before you changed it?
So thats it. But I think a lot of times
in life, especially we Jews, dont have a lot to laugh
about, but I think thats one of our strengths, that we
find humor in everything.
Jacobson: So you correlate your own personal
Judaism with the humor that you do?
Russell: I hope so. I mean, the comments
you made at the beginning of the show of how some of our Sages
would begin each class with a joke, and what the Zohar says,
I couldnt say it better myself. I try. We have to treat
life seriously, but you also have to have a sense of humor,
because I heard a great saying, You dont stop laughing
when you get old, you get old when you stop laughing.
Jacobson: Thats very good. So you
shouldnt get old.
Russell: I hope. By the way, Stu and I
have worked together many times in Los Angeles and in New York.
I heard him speak about going to the old age homes. Most comedians
find themselves at one time or another in some sort of an old
I just got back from Florida. You want to talk
about old age? The average age was deceased. I saw a man sitting
next to his widow.
Jacobson: Did you ever resurrect the dead
with your humor?
Russell: I didnt, but Im learning
that comedy on radio is not the same as live. But thats
Jacobson: No question. You know, they say
that some people have a face for radio, and I guess its
the same thing with humor. Tell me, I was always amazed as a
kid, I dont know if its a myth, by that view of
the weeping clown; that the clowns in life are usually the most
tragic figures. And in a way their humor is almost like a compensation,
a cover-uplike a mask they wear that really hides very
deep anguish within.
Russell: Okay, now youre hitting
below the belt, Rabbi Jacobson.
Russell: You have to hit me below the belt
on live radio. The torment. The torment I go through every day
just to tell a joke.
I guess some of its true. I try not to dwell
on the negative. I try to always accentuate the positive. You
know, I try not to analyze it too much, because once you start
to analyze it, I think, it can all go down the drain.
So there may be some truth to that. I mean, if
you look at all your great comedians over time, most of them
were Jewish. Milton Berle, and you know I have a whole list
of names: Berlinger, Red Buttons was Aaron Schwat, Joey Bishop,
none of these were their real names, and these are all Jews
from Brooklyn, most of the time.
Jacobson: Not to mention Charlie Chaplin.
The Marx Brothers.
Russell: Thats right. So you know
one after the other. And could you say that there was torment,
tragedy? Perhaps. But I would never tell anybody to look for
the tragedy in their lives in order to be funny, do you know
what I mean?
Jacobson: Of course.
Russell: But if someone came to me and
said, Look, Im feeling a little bit blue,
I would say, Lets have some laughs. So there
is some correlation I guess. Im not a big student of the
analysis of it but I do know there is some correlation.
Jacobson: There was a French philosopher,
Voltaire (I dont know if I should cite him on a show called
Toward a Meaningful Life), but he said once that
G-d is the greatest comedian whose audience forgot to laugh.
What do you think about that one?
Russell: Why did the audience forget to
Jacobson: They didnt realize that
life essentially is G-ds comedy in a way. He meant it
probably in a derogatory fashion, but it does say in the Talmud
that life in a way is a drama, a play. Not that G-d is playing
without our lives, but theres a certain joy and laughter
that it elicits. What do you think?
Russell: Well you know something? I think
theres a lot of truth in that. I missed the very beginning
of your program so Ill just ask you before I mention this
thought. Did you happen to mention the little saying from the
Talmud, believe me Im not a genius of where it is, but
in Taanis 22 I believe, did you happen to mention where it talks
about the little story of the jesters?
Jacobson: Actually I did. Where they have
a share in the World to Come, right?
Russell: Correct. Who here has a
share in the World to Come? Thats right. So a lot
of people mention that to me and I say, very good, thats
nice, but in the meantime they always say, youre only
as good as your last show, so if I dont make the people
laugh tomorrow, thank you very much for my portion in the World
to Come, but I got to pay the rent, you know what I mean?
Jacobson: Well, thats a good halachic
question, you can ask that of a Rabbinic authority, that
in case you dont make someone smile with your humor, do
you still get a share in the World to Come? I dont know
if the title is enough, you probably have to
Russell: Right. So maybe G-d is not only
a comedian, Hes also a booking agent.
Jacobson: Well, the topic that I want to
address later on the show is, does G-d have a sense of humor?
When you read the Bible, for instance, the Torah, you see G-d
is angry, wrathful, and you never find G-d smiling. At least
in the Bible you dont.
Russell: Well, you know, my name is Reuven
Yitzchok. And youre the rabbi here, not me, but we know
the name Reuven, Yaakovs oldest son, came from the words
look at my son, and Yitzchok came from the word
tzchok to laugh. So I tell people I was named
Reuven Yitzchok, Look at my son, the comedian.
Jacobson: Very good. Is your father around,
by the way?
Russell: Is he around? Hes right
here. I told him, Dad, I can put you on the phone. He says,
how much time does he want? I said, I dont know.
Maybe youll talk 3-4 minutes. He said, I bow that
Jacobson: Does he want to say something?
Tell him we have hundreds of thousands of listeners.
Russell: If you want me to put him on,
Ill put him on. And Ill just say one last thing
before I go. You know, were in the middle of the Omer
now, and if you dont mind me giving you a free plug, your
book and little resource guide is the best thing thats
ever been written about the Omer. If nobody has it they have
to go get it. It costs very littleI have not been observant
all my life and I learned, when I was studying recently in Kollel
in Morristown, New Jersey, that when you go and you ask someone
what day is today of the Omer, Jews never say, Today is
What do they say? Yesterday was
And there are many different reasons for that
which you can ask your rabbi about. So when I first learned
about this, I went home and told my wife I was very excited
that I learned something new. I think she took it a step too
far though because when I came home the next day and said, Honey,
whats for dinner? she said, Last night was
My fathers right here. Im going to
put him on.
Jacobson: Reuven, thank you very much.
Keep making people smile.
Russell: Amen, amen, and lets make
a date same time next year for this talk show, but lets
do it in Yerushalayim with the Beis HaMikdosh.
Jacobson: And youll be the top humorist.
Russell: Oh boy, those are big shoes to
fill. Ill second the headline under my Dad.
Jacobson: Whats your fathers
Russell: The one and only Joey Russell,
Joey Russell: You are Rabbi Jacobson?
The begeista, in drei un dreisik yor, I give you
an extra 13 years because of inflation and it shouldnt
happen suddenly. I was very pleasedI heard of you but
weve never met.
Jacobson: Well here we are, meeting on
the air. And there are many people listening to our meeting
Joey Russell: Halevai, why
not? Im the last of the dinosaurs. The Wall St. Journal
wrote that article about me.
Jacobson: Really? What did they say?
Joey Russell: The last of the dinosaurs.
Because years ago when you had 300 places in the Catskillsyou
know, youre too young to remember that I think
Jacobson: I know the Catskills, the Borscht
Joey Russell: There used to be 300
places. Can you believe it?
Jacobson: And you did them all?
Joey Russell: I dont know.
The week after Pesach youd get your bookings for 100-110
shows and youd go up and youd book one of the ski
villages, because in the summer they dont ski. And youd
be there. And today, nothing.
But I was in England, in London, I did two Bnei
Brith shows, and a show at the Marble Arch Synagogue. Do you
Jacobson: I do, but not everybody in the
listening audience does.
Jacobson: So how did you get into humor?
Joey Russell: My real name is Phillip.
I guess Reuven told you this. My name was Feivel. When I was
four years old, I remember somebody called me, Feivel the Teivel,
because I studied, not in a yeshivah, but I got a yichus.
Did you ever hear of the alov hashalom, the great Rabbi,
Jacobson: Of course.
Joey Russell: He was in Springfield,
MA where I was born and raised. Ani ben harav Lubavitch.
When Lubavitch was like oy gevalt, you know, if papa
made $400 a year in the shenadar he had to drive a little
fruit truck. It was a big living. But Rabbi Eliezer Silver,
ah, you heard of him?
His son is a rabbi in Harrisburg, did you know
that? And theres a great story about Rabbi Silver. It
seems that he had an urgent call and he had to run to the airport.
He had a private driver at all times. And the driver was speeding.
If you know, the airport in Cincinnati is actually in Covington,
Kentucky, and hes speeding over that great big bridge
over the Ohio River and they were pulled over by a state trooper.
And as hes talking to the driver, the driver says, Sir,
do you know who Ive got in the back seat of this car?
He says, Who is it?
He says, The chief rabbi, one of the great
rabbis of the United States.
And Rabbi Silver hollers out, And dont
forget Canada also. Isnt that great?
Jacobson: He must have been very humble!
Joey Russell: I remember, he always
wore a top hat. Even in those days were talking 60 years
Jacobson: So how did you get into humor?
Did Rabbi Silver encourage you to become a
Joey Russell: They used to call
me Feivel the Teivel. Who knows how? Its a
gift from the Ribbono Shel Olom (Master of the World).
Jacobson: And your father was also a comedian?
Joey Russell: I dont know.
In those days they didnt have time for comedy. A joke
now and then. It wasnt easy to be a Lubavitch Rabbi in
the 1920s and 30s.
Jacobson: Listen, Joey, you should feel
good and healthy, and you should continue to make people laugh.
Joey Russell: Well, I do something
serious too. I do a cable show in Connecticut only called, Jewish
Forum. Its on all the cable shows in Connecticut.
I had Rabbi Avigdor, an Orthodox Rabbi with a boys choir.
It was wonderful. Rabbi Wainhouse, another rabbi who plays the
guitar and sings Yiddish love songs.
Jacobson: Wow, this is something. I mean
you really surround yourself with a lot of rabbis. What can
I tell you? Listen, Joey, I have to go to a station ID here.
Joey Russell: A commercial? Make
some money. Listen, Rabbi Jacobson, maybe someday we shall meet.
You have your own shtelle, your own shul?
Jacobson: I run the Meaningful Life Center,
its an educational organization in New York City.
Joey Russell: For who?
Jacobson: For everyone. If youre
ever in New York, I give a class every Wednesday night on the
Upper West Side, 8pm, and I welcome you, if youre ever
in New York. And tell Reuven and well get together. Okay?
Anyway, thank you very much, Joey and Reuven.
Its very good to hear that it runs in the family.
(Announcement break about ways to contact Rabbi
Jacobson or the Meaningful Life Center. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org,
website: www. meaningfullife.com; phone: 1-800-3MEANINGS, mail:
Meaningful Life Center, Suite 303, 788 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn,
Okay, before I go to the next call, I just want
to pose the question, Does G-d have a sense of humor?
When you do read the Bible, and many people look at the Torah
and religion in general, and particularly Judaism, as being
much more of a religion thats driven by law and order,
by wrathsome would say anger, retribution, punitivenessit
doesnt seem that theres a light spiritedness, even
though you have these incidents that I addressed earlier. But
what about G-d? Does G-d ever smile? And can we make G-d smile?
Where does He smile and when does He smile?
Think about that while I go to the phones. We
have Liba on the air.
Caller: Hi Rabbi Jacobson. I am not a comedian,
stand up or sit down, Im just a fan of Toward a Meaningful
Life, but my thoughts relate more to the beginning of the
show. I really cant answer about G-ds humor, I dont
know that much about Him in that way. But I have found that
if you eliminate an objection to something with humor, you eliminate
the objection. For example, when I started studying Chassidic
philosophy, one family member said, You know, youre
being brainwashed. Now this could have become an argument,
but instead I decided to use humor and I said, Quite frankly,
the condition my brain is in, dont you think it could
use a little washing?
He laughed. It eliminated the objection and he
never brought it up again.
Jacobson: Maybe his brain could use some
Caller: But see, I dont want to put
someone else down with humor.
Jacobson: No, I understand.
Caller: I give talks and I dont see.
Im totally blind. And the first thing Ill say to
an audience to relax them is, Shalom. Its good to
see you. And it makes them laugh, it makes them relax.
They see Im not taking myself too intensely. And so I
find humor relaxes me and it relaxes others and then I can get
on to more serious things because theyre relaxed and therefore
theyll be more receptive to what I have to say.
As far as in the Bible, I only know the King James
version because thats the only one thats on tape,
there is a place where they were offering up sacrifices to their
god, and their god wasnt coming up and taking the sacrifices
and Elijah said, Where is your god? Why isnt he
taking your sacrifice? Has he gone to the bathroom? And that
always cracks me up. I dont know what it says in a kosher,
but to me, if were made in the image and likeness of G-d,
and we have a sense of humor, then He must have a sense of humor.
Where do we get it from?
Jacobson: Thats a very good segue.
Thank you, Liba.
Thats a perfect segue, because the truth
is, in the Kabbalah and Jewish thought in general, Jewish philosophy,
the idea that a human being is created in the Divine image has
far-reaching implications that affect our lives much more than
we may even think. It basically means that every part of our
lives, every part of our personalities, our psyches, whether
its the way we smile or the way we cry, is in some way
a reflection of the Divine in our lives.
And therefore, exactly as Liba just put it, if
we have humor, it means G-d must have humor. And vice verse.
Because it is a partnership. Life is a partnership.
Someone did ask me this question which is what
provoked me to ask the question here on the air. Someone asked,
How come you never find G-d smiling in the Bible?
And I thought about it, because the fact is, definitely with
the story of Isaac where Sarah laughed at how she could
possibly have a child at her age, and there are other smiling
stories, but you dont have laughing on G-ds side.
G-d is very serious in the Bible.
So then something struck me. In the Talmud theres
an interesting story. The Talmud tells that there was a disagreement
in heaven between two heavenly academies. One was called the
mesifta drekiya, which is the Heavenly Academy,
and the other one was called the mesifta dKudshu Brichu,
the Academy of G-d. They were studying Torah and there was as
debate that they couldnt resolve, so they decided to go
down to earth and ask a scholar in one of the academies that
studies Torah, in one of the yeshivahs down here in Israel or
Babylon. They ask Rabba bar Nachmeni, who was a great
Sage, and he thought about it and the way he resolved the issue
was not like G-ds opinion but it was like the opinion
of some of the other students in the heavenly academy, the angels.
So its just fascinating to have the idea
that a human being can disagree with G-d. Then the Talmud concludes
with a fascinating statement. It says, Then G-d smiled
and said, natzchuni, bonei natzchuni, You
have prevailed, my child, you have prevailed.
In other words, G-d smiled in satisfaction that
his child, meaning this scholar on earth, with his own wisdom,
was able to come to a conclusion that prevailed even over G-d.
So it made me think that perhaps the reason theres no
humor in the actual Bible is that the Bible is a book, a blueprint
for life. In blueprints, when you read a computer manual, theres
no humor there, because its telling you basically the
rules of how to live your life. Do this, dont do that.
As I discussed in these shows, the Bible is not just a set of
rules, its actually an operators manual for life.
An operators manual saying, This is the healthiest
and best way to live your life.
So in there, theres no real room for any
variations. So its a book of law and order essentially.
And G-d, in a sense, bound himself to that structure. Therefore
you dont find the concept of smiling or laughter, because
if you look at life itself, when do we smile, when do we laugh?
When something changes. It says, taanug tmidi
aino taanug, consistent pleasure is not
A laugh comes when theres some type of variation,
when theres a change, a novelty. You know, you dont
laugh all the time. There are some people who do, I guess, but
laughter comes from something out of the ordinary. You see something
a little weird, a little off-beat, and it makes you laugh.
In the Bible, nothing is off-beat, because its
really describing life as its meant to be lived. However,
in this exchange and interaction where a human being, through
his own initiative, is able to come up with an idea, a concept
that can even challenge G-d, that makes G-d smile.
In other words, it is in our power to tickle G-d.
A human being has the ability, the power, to make G-d cry and
to make G-d smile. And I think thats a beautiful, powerful
concept in the partnership of human existence, the human condition,
the human drama, that we arent just subjects on the receiving
end, we actually can make G-d smile. Unfortunately, the other
extreme is that we can also make G-d cry.
But we have that ability to interact with G-d.
When G-d created the universe, He bound Himself with
us, and thats why you find at times that G-d smiles. You
find in the Talmud and in other places that G-d has that element
of having the ability to smile, which of course, reflects back
to us, that we also need to have that attribute, of sometimes
opening up with something thats lighter, like a release
When Moses finally went up to G-d and prevailed
upon Him to forgive the people for sinning with the Golden Calf,
theres a certain inner satisfaction. Its
similar to a parent and a child, where a child may do something
to transgress, and the parent gets upset. But you love your
child so much that ultimately if the child is sincere, the child
can elicit in you a deeper compassion, a deeper way to forgive,
a deeper energy, and at the end of it you end up smiling. You
see that your child has come around and is able to reach you
in that way, and it makes you smile ultimately.
I think thats a very healthy way of parenting,
that though there are times where discipline is required, we
have to understand that discipline is also an extension of love,
and theres no greater satisfaction for a parent whose
child makes him smileboth out of joy or through coming
through an experience where you see your child has learned through
hard or difficult times.
Lets go to Mark on the air.
Caller: Hey, first time listener, just
was scanning the dial looking for another station but youre
really interesting. Ill be a listener forever!
Jacobson: I hope thats on a serious
note, because this weeks show is supposed to be a humorous
Caller: But actually, I only want to say
one thing. Two things actually. Everything is funny. Everything
is serious. I knew a gentleman who was a Holocaust survivorthat
man could laugh and joke about something as extreme as the Holocaust
and find humor in it. I mean it wasnt like the repulsive
type of humor that bordered on anti-Semitism, obviously, it
was just making lightness of such a heavy thing. I realized
that anything could be treated lightly.
Jacobson: Well, he has that right to be
able to do that.
Caller: Right. I mean I wouldnt make
jokes about something that severe.
Jacobson: Well, it could both make you
cry and make you smile. Its very much in context of what
were saying here and I appreciate what youre sharing.
People like that give you a lot of strength, because
what they realize is that ultimately life is more profound than
how seriously we take it or how humorously we take it. Theres
something else going on.
Caller: One more thing, though. I do joke
a lot, and it seems like when youre joking, people think
youre not serious. And its a combination of both.
For example, if someones really slow at work, Ill
say, What are you waiting for? A Jewish president?
Something along that line. And because I mix humor in it, people
dont take it seriously. But what I really mean is that
they are slow. Im not that mad at them.
Jacobson: Okay, but in fairness Mark, there
are people who are sometimes very cynical, and theyre
always using humor as an escape or defense to hide behind. Humor,
as I was discussing, can be a very powerful tool of strength
and bonding for people, but it can also be something that people
hide behind, like theyre always making a joke, everythings
Caller: But sometimes its saying,
I am mad at you. But Im not that mad
at you. But the people take it like, if the persons
joking, theyre not mad at them at all.
Jacobson: Well, I appreciate that. So please
do listen and tell your friends about the show.
Caller: Okay. Ill even tell people
I dont like as well about the show! Why do people
always say, Tell your friends? Why? You dont
want people who are my enemies listening?
Jacobson: Good point. Okay, thank you.
Youre listening to Toward a Meaningful
Life with Simon Jacobson, as we wind down here in the last
few minutes of the show.
So what is the Hebrew word for laughter or smile?
The Hebrew word is schok. Msachek means
to smile. Bedicha is another word, which means
a joke. Or as I said earlier, badchan you often hear
at weddings, is a humorous or comic entertainer. The Talmud
uses the word badchan when it comes to the ones who will
have a share in the World to Come, as in the story I mentioned
earlier. Schok is similar to tzchok, tzchok
means laughter, and schok means smile and sometimes its
stated in the positive sense where we talk about Az yimalei
schok penoi, which is a verse in the Bible which says that
when the Messiah will come, when the world will come to a deeper
perfection, thats when well be able to completely
smile. As long as we live in this world where theres even
one person suffering, no matter how good your life is, you cant
Yet theres a place for humor even in our
lives today, but its a humor thats connected to
something Divine. To plagiarize, the Divine comedy, so to speak.
But to use humor to grow is something that is important to do.
At the same time, ultimate joy will only be there when the entire
world experiences joy, because with the human race, being one
organism, as long as one part of it is ailing, all of us are
affected by it.
Theres so much to say about humor. Im
sure if we had more time and we got more calls, wed be
able to discuss this further, so we will talk about it some
more on the website. Your comments, your thoughts, and your
suggestions if you wish can also be posted there. I did receive
an email from a person who comes to my class. I didnt
ask his permission so I wont say his name, but he did
write an interesting compendium of humor within Torah, and I
appreciate that so I thank him for that.
Id also like to make an announcement since
I do give a class every Wednesday night, at 8:00pm, 346 W. 89th
St., corner Riverside Drive and youre all welcome to come
to the class. Its a combination of serious, humor, sometimes
better sometimes worse. Sometimes you tell a joke, when youre
speaking publicly and people dont laugh, so one of the
tricks of the trade that Ill share with you is, you can
always tell your audience, okay, I know not to use this joke
again next time. That usually gets a laugh. If you dont
get a laugh there, maybe you should quit speaking.
I always want to thank the sponsors of this and
other shows: Robert Klein, Sharon Gans and other supporters.
These shows are made possible through your donations and your
sponsorships and please call us to find out how you can help
at 1-800-3MEANING, 1-800-363-2646.
Finally, humor is a powerful tool in our lives.
When its used in a Divine way, not to hurt others, not
to hurt ourselves, and not as an escape, it can be a type of
release that helps people lighten up. Try it out. Next time
you speak to someone and theres anger or some type of
misunderstanding, sometimes through a humorous way of approaching
it, is a light way that can diffuse things.
May we all experience only laughter in our lives,
and even when there are times where theres a dip in our
experiences, may that too turn into something that makes us
This has been Toward a Meaningful Life with
Simon Jacobson. See you next Sunday.