Thursday, February 17, 2011


Parshat Ki Tissah
12 Adar, 5771
February 16th, 2011

A story:
Rabbi Brokah the Seer was often found in the market of Bei Lefet. Elijah the Prophet (maybe a millennium dead by this point) was often found visiting with him (this is a supernatural story).

Rabbi Brokah said to Elijah: “Are there people in this marketplace who are deserving of the world to come?”

Elijah said, “No.”

After a while, two people walked into the market. Elijah said, “those two are deserving of the world to come.”

Rabbi Brokah went up to them and asked them, “What do you do?”

They said, “we are comedians – we make sad people laugh. Also, when we see two people who have a quarrel between them, we work to make peace for them.”
Talmud Masekhet Ta’anit 22a

One great criticism I have of Americans is that we lack a true sense of humor. Our comedy is plentiful, but more corny than insightful (“take my wife please”). Exceptions are Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor, but both came out of disliked minorities.

Others have explained it as an American earnestness that brooks no sense of the absurd. Graham Greene, in both The Quiet American (about Vietnam) and The Comedians (about Haiti, and the most serious book you’ve ever read), wrote about our indefatigable belief that everything is fixable with the right know-how and enough elbow grease. This self seriousness frowns at pointing out that we, our bodies, our natures, and our world are in fact flawed – the source of all humor.

There are in our community, at this particular time, too many people who are seriously ill. Let us pray every day for their health, let us support them in their time of need. Let us also remember that real sickness is not something simply solved with the right combination of doctors and drugs. Real sickness is always a painful struggle. What makes us worthy of heaven is to be able to sit with people, to cry with them, and then to laugh with them at the absurdity of this world.

1 comment:

  1. Rabbi Perlo,

    Yes, I agree that we do become a powerful and invaluable source of healing through bikkur holim. It's important to note that people in need often don't ask for help, so we have to take it upon ourselves to reach out within our own families and the larger synagogue community. After all, we feel better when we're not alone, and it feels better to laugh than cry.