BENEFITS OF HUMOUR By Rabbi Dr Mordechai Schiffman
One of the most lauded traits in the positive psychology literature is humour. People who have a sense of humour have more positive moods, less negative moods, a more engaged and pleasurable life, and an increased satisfaction with life in general. Laughter, the physiological manifestation of humour, is beneficial for mental health, as it can be a valuable means for coping with stress and can also enrich relationships. It has physical health benefits as well, as it can relax muscles, improve blood circulation, reduce blood pressure, and enhance respiration.
Yet, there is an important caveat. Dr. Rod Martin, who meticulously studied the psychology of humour for over three decades, distinguished between different categories of humour, some of which can be beneficial to the self or others, while others can be damaging. Affiliative humour, which is used in a non-hostile manner to lighten the mood, to make the self or others feel better, is psychologically beneficial. But when it is aggressive, used to put down the self or others, whether through the use of sarcasm, teasing, derision, or ridicule, it can be psychologically damaging.
As a powerful example of affiliative humour, 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.
Investigating what their secret was, 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. This documented case of affiliative humour shows the Sages appreciated the healing power of humour and the extreme reward one receives for using this power to heal others.
In stark contrast, a paradigm of aggressive humour is the scoffer (leitz). Proverbs, the sages of the Talmud, and later works of religious-ethical growth in our tradition, all caution against becoming a scoffer. Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner elaborates on the spiritual sickness that a scoffer represents, being unable to revere, appreciate, or experience awe. The impulse of the scoffer is to be cynical and sarcastic, denigrating anything of significance. This is the trait embodied by Amalek, the archival of the Jewish people.
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 inserts a bothersome 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. “He is responsible for all of the money collected for the Tabernacle and there is no oversight,” his friend responded. “What do you expect? That he wouldn’t get rich?”
It is rather remarkable that someone can accuse Moshe, who led the Jewish people out of Egypt and spoke directly to G-d, of stealing from his people in the place where G-d dwells. Yet, this is the degenerative power of cynicism and scoffing. This aggressive type of humour against others, may get a short-lived good laugh, but it damages relationships, and is corrosive to living a meaningful life
Let us try not to fall into the trap of aggressive and cynical humour and instead harness the power of affiliative humour to enhance our psychological and spiritual well-being.
TORAH TEASERS PEKUDEI by Moshe Erlbaum
Q 1. What type of coin, mentioned in this parsha, is mentioned only one other time in the Torah (and where)?
Each person was expected to donate to the Tabernacle a beka of silver, the value of half a shekel (Exodus 38:26 with Rashi). In parshas Chayeh Sarah, when Eliezer gives gifts to Rivkah, the earring has the weight of a beka (Genesis 24:22 with Rashi).
Q 2. Of all the precious metals collected for the Tabernacle, which had the largest amount?
Silver, with a tally of 100 (kikar) talents and 1,775 shekels, is collected in the greatest amount (Exodus 38:25).
Q 3. What precious stone appears three times on the clothing of the High Priest?
The shoham stone is twice on the shoulder straps of the ephod (39:8), and also appears on the fourth row of the breastplate (choshen) (Exodus 39:13).
Q4. Which two of the 12 stones found on the breastplate (choshen) are mentioned elsewhere in the Torah – not in relation to the Tabernacle?
(1) The sapir stone is on the choshen (Exodus 39:11) and also mentioned in parshas Mishpatim as the vision the elders saw at Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:10). (2) The shoham stone which is on both the choshen (39:13) and the straps of the ephod (35:9) also appears in parshas Bereishis when describing the rivers flowing from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:12).
Q 5. Where in this parsha are bells mentioned?
“Golden bells” appear on the bottom of the robe (me’il) worn by the High Priest (Exodus 39:25).
Q 6. In what context is fire mentioned, in both parshas Vayekhel and parshas Pekudei?
Fire is mentioned at the beginning of Vayekhel with regards to keeping Shabbat (Exodus 35:3), and in the last verse of Pekudei regarding the pillar of fire that led the Jewish people through the desert at night (Exodus 40:38).
LOVE AND RESPECT FOR OTHER PEOPLE
Hear your Father, your King, the Creator and Sustainer of the entire universe, saying to you:
Love and respect all of My children. Have a deep and profound sense of respect for each person you encounter. The person to whom you are talking is created in My image. By being respectful towards every single person created in My image, you are respecting Me. The greater your respect for Me, the greater your respect for those created in My image.
Love others as yourself. The more you focus on the good qualities of each individual whom you encounter, the greater will be your positive feelings towards that person. With some of My children, doing so will be easy. Do so even when it is difficult.
Identify with other people and you will feel an increased love towards them. Realize that you and others are all souls and have one Creator.
When you experience love towards others, your feeling is reciprocated. Radiating love towards others will make you beloved. Wherever you go, you will be welcome. You will transform strangers into friends. Ultimately, by mastering the ability to love unconditionally, you will be able to transform enemies into friends.
Especially when relating to someone with whom you find it difficult to interact, hear Me telling you, “Right now you are speaking to someone created in the image of your Father Speak with love and respect.”