We are here to improve our relationships with others
in order to transform the Jewish people in these urgent times.
Last week’s stretch of the week was: Before rebuking someone for a misdeed, take time to remind yourself of the respect you have for this person and how you can help best.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
It’s a wonderful midda to have a sense of humor. We can bring so many people joy with our upbeat spirit and wit. It is healthy for a person to find humor in life’s situations, and it is beneficial to relationships to be able to smooth things out with a good sense of humor. Yet, we should never find humor at the expense of someone else.
A Tanna mentioned in the gemara, Bar Kapara, possessed a fantastic sense of humor and was known for pulling off humorous antics (see Nedarim 51a). Yet, we find him getting upset when one talmid laughed at another for making the wrong bracha first (Brachos 39a). The lesson is clear: There is nothing funny at someone else’s expense.
We must train ourselves to develop a Torah-dik sense of humor. We can actually see somebody slip on a banana peel and not find it funny. We can be in a room filled with people laughing at someone and find it repulsive. Of course there are innocent jokes, but we must be very careful with our words. Very often, a seemingly innocent story or witty remark can violate serious transgressions of lashon hora, even when the subject of the story is not upset that it was said.
If we are not sure whether a remark is appropriate, we should err on the side of caution, not humor. This can be quite a nisayon when we have a really good punchline, but our reward in holding back will be quite worthwhile.
In any situation we find ourselves in, we should look to provide encouragement and chizuk to others, and be ever so careful not to hurt their feelings. We should utilize our sense of humor to cheer people up or simply to put a smile on their faces. This is the greatest form of simcha available to us- to lift the hearts of others.
(Reproduced from Run After the Right Kavod by Rabbi Moshe Don Kestenbaum, with permission of the author and copyright holders, Israel Bookshop Publications).
Story: (based on a true story)
My oldest daughter Shira recently became a vegetarian. During the week, I may be the only person who really notices because she eats later when she gets home from school, but on Shabboses and at Sunday night dinners, its front and center. She has specific foods she makes for herself and turns down dishes she used to beg me to make not long ago.
For some reason, my husband and next oldest daughter think this is hilarious. Months after Shira’s announcement, Tammy will still respond to Shira’s passing the chicken platter on by saying, “Nothing with a face, right?” My husband regularly follows up with something like, “I wonder if she’d eat a watch. It has a face.” They then might move on to whether vegetarians who eat fish would eat grasshoppers if we knew which were kosher, and asking Shira if she’s learned to love beans yet, since she always used to hate them and that’s got to make vegetarianism a weird choice. Shira sometimes plays along and sometimes just ignores it all.
After a Sunday night barbeque during which Shira ate grilled eggplant while her father and sister told her how grateful they are that at least she’s normal enough to eat eggs, Shira retired quietly to her room and didn’t come out for hours. When I went in to check on her, she quickly shut her cell phone and turned her tear-stained face away from me. With a little prodding, she opened up.
“I said lashon hora about Daddy,” she said. “I told Rachel what he said about not eating eggs being not normal. I know I shouldn’t have, but he and Tammy get me so mad!”
Rachel is Shira’s best friend, who has taken the vegetarian journey with her and who does not eat eggs or dairy. I had a feeling that comment would hit Shira wrong, and had already spoken to Tammy and to my husband about it.
“They’re always so mean!” she continued. “Why does the way I eat have to be funny? Why can’t I just do it, and not make any trouble for anyone? Why can’t people see it as a good thing that I’m doing something I believe in, even if it’s hard? And it’s so much harder not to eat the sesame beef when Tammy giggles and asks me if I’m sure I don’t want it. It’s like they think it’s stupid and I’m stupid for doing it and so are my friends.”
The truth is that I’ve been talking to Tammy about this for a few weeks already. Her jokes tend to skew a bit mean. My husband tends to stay more playful, and I figured that Shira should be able to take a little bit of playful ribbing, as many of us often do based on various choices we make. It was clear now that Shira did not think any of this was funny or playful. Any silly discussion stemming from her food choices hurt her deeply, even if there were no hurtful intentions at all.
By the time Shabbos rolled around, we had made a change. After I explained to Tammy more about how her comments were hurtful instead of just telling her not to make them, she asked me to help her stop. By the end of the Friday night meal, my brief pointed looks across the table had helped her keep her mouth shut and earn her extra allowance.
I had to shoot a few similar looks at my husband, but he didn’t need the reward--just the reminder. He used his humor to bring the kids into a parsha discussion instead, starting a silly discussion about sheep that brought those who had wandered away back to the table. He also made a point of trying some of Shira’s special food, complimented her on it, and asked if she might make a bit more next time so he could have some.
Two Shabbosos later, Shira brought Rachel to the house for the first time in months. For once, someone else was sharing her “weird” food, and when I served the egg-less blondies Rachel brought along for everyone to share and they got many compliments, Shira glowed. One of my sons interjected, “But how can it taste so normal?,” and Shira let it slide. She felt safe enough in general to let a few little things slide off, as I had hoped she would learn to do, once her entire major choice wasn’t under attack under the guise of humor.
Questions for Discussion:
What causes us to make jokes about other people or their choices?
In what ways does making jokes about a person or their choices convey a lack of respect for them, even if it’s not intended?
How can we use humor productively without crossing the line into being hurtful?
Stretch of the Week:
Before you say something funny, consider whether it may hurt anyone.