humor: WD40 and duct tape in one

Humor is dangerous. Rebbe Shlomo Carlebach said that people laugh at all the wrong things. (according to my friend Zev) (I guess Reb Moish can correct me if I got it wrong.)

It's dangerous because it is so powerful. An awkward social situation can be made comfortable with a quick joke, or a comfortable situation can be made traumatizing by a mean-spirited joke. Humor can encourage and welcome, or divide and drive away.

Unfortunately many times, humor is used to lighten our lives in such a way that things that should never be tolerated become accepted and outrage is pacified or trivialized. How often can we laugh at civil liberties being trampled, human rights being undermined, before these things can no longer affect us except to laugh them away as quickly as possible?

Humor can have a coccoon affect. It can cut us off from reality. Kalut rosh, being light-hearted (literally light headed) is one of the things we are warned to fend off. When we treat things lightly, we separate our hearts from feeling real things. The Rambam says that the most dangerous sins are those that are so basic that we take for granted (lashon harah etc) such that they are referred to as those that we tread on with our heals--things below our awareness threshhold.

This is not to say that humor is inherently bad. Humor is there to raise our spirits and lighten our load. There is some debate about exactly what is the Jewish definition of the pursuit of happiness, (via A Simple Jew) but some things are clear, performance of mitzwoth should be done with pure joy. Anything less takes away from those mitzwoth. When rava used to teach his students, the Talmud relates that he would first tell them jokes to excite them and prepare them for serious Torah study.

I just wanted to raise the issue of humor, and how it lubricates our tolerances, to a level of awareness where we can choose for ourselves what to laugh at and what to accept, what to frown at and what to protest.


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