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Be'siata De'shmaya Emeseh' Purim Torah

After-the-fact writeup of a drasha delivered at the closure of Pesach 5769. Wording is not precise and some lines have been added or changed.

I was initially planning to share a piece of Gemara that I had learned this year, on the topic of "yesh ones be'gitin", a complex and abstract sugya in the beginning of Maseches Kesubos. But my father had the sage advice that this being the end of a long and tiring Yom Tov, it would be more appreciated and worthwhile to share something of a bit lighter nature. So I thought I'd say some jokes. No joke. Actually, the Gemara in Maseches Shabbos and elsewhere relates that the great Amora, Rabah, would start off his halacha shiur with a joke and laughter"be'milsa de'bedichusa, ve'ka'badchi rabanan". Now, this gemara seems very strange, a bit comical. Why would the holy and saintly Rabah do such a seemingly trivial thing as to tell a joke in front of his students, particularly right when beginning to learn from the Torah Ha'kedoshah? What would compel him to act in such a way? Indeed, the mefarshim have expressed their bewilderment over the matter (See the Pnei Yehoshua in his introduction to Maseches Kesubos, also quoted in the Siach Yitzchak, Teshuvah 437), but if we look in the Yalkut Shimoni (thanks to Bar Ilan software) perhaps we can gain some insight, and in truth, Rashi on the gemara seems to allude to the same idea. The Midrash records the aforementioned anecdote about Rabah, but adds the words "ki haichi de'liftach li'bie'hu"in order to open their hearts. Of course, the word "lev" here is not meant to be taken in the literal, physical sense of "heart", but rather to be referring to the more inner part of human lifethe mind or soul. However, the idea is still a bit ambiguous: what does it mean that a joke opens up the lev, and more importantwhat value did Rabah see in all of this as a preface to his shiur on Torah? It can be explained as follows: the message that Rabah was trying to convey to his students through the juxtaposition of comedy to Torah is that the greater a person's knowledge of Torah, both in terms of breadth and even more so in terms of depth and understanding, then the more he will be attuned to the joke element which is to be found within the beauty of Torah. Now, what does this mean? It sounds more like an inappropriate joke than an emes'eh pshat in the gemara! Let us first discuss some of the basic elements of the phenomenon of a joke, of laughter, and how they play themselves out in different instances in the Torah. Although I have hardly researched the matter, I think that it is well accepted and fairly obvious that the primary element of a joke is that of surprise, something new and unexpected. When one beholds something which is new to him he generally derives some enjoyment from it, and when that thing comes unexpectedly, particularly when it is in contrast to what he was expecting, then it generates a heightened degree of enjoyment (proportionate to the heightened degree of newness which is produced by the surprise) and often laughter, as it is considered to be funny. A joke, or a surprise, comes from a 'chiddush', something new, out of the ordinary, or extraordinary. Take a clown's nose for instance. Most people arent expecting to see a round, red nose on a human being, so

when they see it on the face of a clown it comes as a surprise, often a laugh. Or in a similar vein, for an adult to author a book is no big deal, but if the author would be a young child that would certainly be a great surprise, because it is something that we are not accustomed to and contrary to our normative conception of life. Of course, there is much more to it than this, however what was stated certainly seems to be at the heart of the joke. There is a word in lashon hakodesh that brings out this point very well: "peleh". The word "peleh" is usually translated as "a wonder", but it is also used in lashon hakodesh to mean "distant", or "separate". This is understandable in light of the above, that the main catalyst for something being a wonder, amazing, is the fact that it is distant and removed from one's normative view of reality, from his expectations and preconceived notions. A significant deviance from the natural flow of life draws attention and interest. The Ramah in Shulchan Aruch makes a comment regarding the end of the brachah of "Asher yatzar": "rophai kol basar u'maphlee la'asos""whoacts wondrously"which can shed great light on the issues at hand. He explains that the 'peleh' that we are referring to is that which Hashem attaches a spiritual entity together with a physical one our neshomah with our guf. It is interesting to note the Ramah's choice of incorporating the spiritual aspect into Hashem's "wondrous doings". True, it is quite a remarkable and amazing miracle that our spiritual soul remains contained within the physical body, but why focus on this more than on any of the myriads of other amazing wonders that Hashem performs for us within our body? It its especially interesting when taking into account the fact that the rest of the brachah pertains to the guf and its intricacies, so why then the change of focus? Again, the explanation can be in light of the above, that any wonder always involves two things of a different naturethe normal, anticipated 'hava a'minah' and the actual 'ka'mashma lan' which is beheld; the greater the difference and the stronger the contrast between them then the greater peleh it will be. Therefore, the co-existence of the spiritual neshomah with the physical guf is truly the greatest possible peleh, because any other feat that is manifest within the physical world, or even within the spiritual world for that matter, as wondrous and outstanding as it may be, it's two constituents nonetheless remain intrinsically similar to one another in that they are comprised of the same basic matter. The twosome of the neshomah and guf, however, are opposed to one another in the most extreme manner possiblethey are made up of entirely different substances and are in fact inhabitants of different universes. It is literally akin to a half-angel-half-beast. This phenomenon that the two can coexist is indeed the greatest 'peleh' of them all, and in fact, the living human being never ceases to amaze its observers, as their focus is constantly shifted between the two different components of neshamah and guf. But the mere existence of the two different entities together is only the beginning of their cause for wonderment, because as an outgrowth of their varying substances they also bring along with themselves a dramatically varying set of worldviews and perspectives, beliefs and values. The guf by it's corporeal nature understands and desires only things of it's familiar, physical realm. It's inclinations and comforts are bound to that which is "l'matah min ha'shemesh"below the sun, in the earthly, lower world. The neshomah, by contrast, knows and longs for elements of it's nature; for the spiritual, the divine, the intellectual and the moral. It searches for truth and deeper meaning, satisfied by nothing of its physical host-environment. As a result, any encounter that the guf has with

something from the higher worlds of the spiritualof the neshomah, of Hashem and His Torah, and of all that come along with themwill inevitably arouse a sense of peleh, and often humor. For starters, the beliefs that we espouse as neshomadik people come across as strange and unfathomable to the guf. The existence of an invisible, intangible god, of one god who is the force behind all the physical bodies and powers which are so clearly felt here in this lower physical world. The existence of an invisible, intangible neshoma, of morals and higher values, and so on. Additionally, the actions and behaviors which emanate from a neshoma-lifestyle are very foreign and distant vis--vis the guf and its perceptions. Imagine someone who has never heard of the mitzvos of lulav and esrog. When he walks into a shul on Succos and sees a huge crowd of men waving a palm branch, a lemon-like fruit, some myrtle and willows he'll probably be caught between disbelief and laughter. Or a person who hasnt had the zechus of being in a beis medrash, when he walks into a lively yeshiva and it's full of young men pacing back and forth, muttering to themselves, swinging their thumbs, yelling at each other and so, he'll think that either he stepped into the wrong building or that they're all in the wrong place. Of course, we who have been privileged to partake in such activities know and appreciate their true inner essence and beauty, but to the outsider coming from a guf/earthly perspective they seem very strange (and even though the 'spiritual icons' in these examples are not actually made of a spiritual substance, nonetheless they are generated by a spiritual/neshomah lifestyle). This aspect of the peleh is expressed beautifully by the Ibn Ezra in his commentary on the pasuk "ish ki yaphlee" regarding a nazir (someone who takes a vow to abstain from wine, cutting his hair, and becoming impure). The Ibn Ezra interprets this too in the sense of wonderment, that such a person who is combating his physical impulses and fantasies is acting in a way which is wondrous and 'peledik' in the eyes of the masses, most of whom are deeply sunken into the swamps of taivah and gaivahdesire and haughtiness. His exalted, neshomah-lifestyle is something which is above and beyond the scope of the lower, guf-perspective, and as such it elicits a "wow" from those that are far from its way. This is in fact the life-force behind any 'gadol story'the element of rising above the lower standard of living to do or be something greater, and thus the wowing impression that it makes. Furthermore, even the mere endurance of the neshomah and the spiritual within the foreign and hazardous environment of the guf and the physical is a tremendous peleh, perhaps at the top of the list. The physical world that we live in is so uninviting and even hostile towards the spiritualboth intrinsically, in its impure and crude state, as well as from the actions and attitudes of those who inhabit itand the necessary conditions and resources for the survival and prosperity of the neshomah are so difficult to attain, that our mere existence here, today, in year 5769, with our spiritual vibrancy and continuity, is a wonder of wonders. Another Torah source, developed by Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch: the name of our second Patriarch"Yitzchak", or in English: "Laugher". Such a name would seem quite unusual and begs for a good explanation. By this point your joke-detector should be sounding violently. R' Hirsch explains that this name was in fact most appropriate for the son of Avraham and Sarah, both on a personal level and as the symbol and torchbearer for Jewish continuity throughout our long and tumultuous history. Avraham and Sarah

were not only way past the normal age of bearing children but were also both physically incapable of such, and therefore the birth of their son spawned nothing but laughter "tzchok asah li Elokim, kol ha'shomaiyah yitzachak li". And the name carries even greater significance and worthiness insofar as Yitzchak Avinu was but the first link on the eternal chain of the Jewish people's marvelous persistence here on Earth. Generation after generation of persecution and suffering, hatred and massacre, and the Jewish torch is still burning bright. The lone sheep is outlasting the seventy wolves, numbered and strong, defying all odds and laughing at all doubters and disbelievers. R' Yonasan Eibshitz has said that the greatest miracleor in our terms: the greatest jokeof all time is none other than the continued survival of the Jewish people throughout history "she'bechol dor va'dor omdim aleinu le'cha'lo'sainu, ve'Hakadosh Baruch Hu matzilainu mi'yadam". And certainly, in this vein, any miracle that Hakadosh Baruch Hu performs will inherently be a peleh in the eyes of earth-minded guf-life. The fact that there is even a slight deviance from the normal paths of "nature" is something that immediately arouses the attention and wonder of the nature-focused people who live their whole lives within its narrow straits and laws. And not only a God-effected miracle, but a human-effected miracle as well, as in the case above of the nazir. When we rise above our physical/guf instincts and norms to live a more spiritual/neshomah life of morality and godliness we are being as miraculous and "oseh pheleh" as Hashem was in splitting the Yam Suf. The fact that we have all refrained from eating our favorite chametz foods for eight days, the fact that we restrain our emotions when someone may insult us, the fact that we continuously place our complete faith and trust in the Ribbonon Shel Olam in face of all that seems to run counter to Him and His Torah, and so onthese are all truly amazing miracles and unfathomable jokes to the shallow, superficial view of the guf. However, the real joke is that all of these jokes have actually been a joke. Only when a person is residing in the lowly frame of mind of the guf, with it's earthly, short-sighted view, does he perceive all of the above phenomena as comicalthe strange beliefs, behaviors, supernatural lifestyle, etc. But when the lens gets turned over to the side of the neshomah and a person starts to take in the picture from the higher view on life, then "ve'na'hapoch hu"everything else gets turned over as well. All of the beliefs and values, conceptions of fact and fallacy, norms and standards, are boomeranged, and the guf & company now become the object of all the jokes. When a person is zocheh to dig into himself, to climb the rungs of his personal ladder and to reach its summit, he now stands within the spiritual world of his neshomah, in the light of truth and clarity, and from that exalted viewpoint he can enjoy the complete and beautiful creation that Hashem has made in its entirety. He perceives the reality from the pristine and accurate lens of his intellect and divine soul and'olam barur ra'eesee'he sees it with a clear vision. All of the above truthsHashem's Oneness and imperceptibility, his neshoma's existence (i.e. his existence) and holiness, the truth and beauty of Torah and mitzvos and the lifestyle which they engender, Hashem's benevolent, providential hand throughout Jewish history, world history, and day-to-day lifeare now so obvious and clear that to conceive of them as jokes is itself a joke! How can anyone believe or act otherwise? "Olam haphuch ra'eesee"he now sees how everything in our topsy-turvy earth-habitat is backwards and in disarray. The beliefs and values of guf-

based societies are so far from what is true and straight that the right-minded observer is caught between disbelief and laughter. How can anyone believe or do any of these crazy things? How can healthy individuals believe that there is absolute power within physical objects? That the vast and amazing cosmos run by themselves without a Creator and Director? Devote the bulk of their time and resources to tossing a ball into a hoop, amassing paper bills, or engage in the hoards of other such trivial and lowly pursuits that fill up modern-day culture? Today if you open up a newspaper you realize that it no longer has a comic sectionthe entire thing is one big joke! To the one who is fortunate enough to view life from the scope of his neshomah these phenomena are absolutely mind-boggling and often hilarious. The neshomah knows that most people are in the wrong place (i.e. in the hierarchy of power and respect) and feels that it too has stepped into the wrong universe. And again, to counter the oddities from the view of the guf, the mere endurance of many nations and individuals is also a cause for wonder. Why would Hashem, Single Creator and Ruler of all, allow for the continued existence of creatures who constantly rebel against their Maker, doing evil and harm, and certainly appearing to be fulfilling no significant purpose or meaning through their lives. "Mi ka'mochah ba'ailim/ba'ilmim Hashemo'say phelehWho is like You, Hashem, that is strong/silent [not needing to respond immediately to respite those who disobey Him according to Midrashic interpretation]and performs wonders". And in truth, the farther a person is zoche to delve into the depths of the Torahthe Divine Planthe more he will understand and be amazed by Hashem's hashgachah klallis and pratishow "everything that the Heavens do is for the good". Even occurrences which seem to be so terrible and unjust were in fact the very best thing possible for us. At the end of the day, Yitzchak and his descendantsfrom their exalted, heavenly perch are the ones who really get the joke. They get the last laugh. Now, of course, this all does not mean to say that we should be laughing at those who are living a guf-centered and driven life, nor should we leave them wallowing in the dust. The holy obligation we have as being the privileged and enlightened nation of Hashem is to have compassion on those who are not as fortunate, not as knowledgeable. Ultimately, our divine mission is to be a 'light unto the nations', to spread the wealth of truth which we have received from Hashem and to elevate all others to bask in it as well. Nonetheless, the initial reaction of the clear-sighted when beholding the far-fetched behaviors and beliefs that have eroded into being over time is one of wonder and laughter. However, even within the Jewish people there exists a very wide range of levels of knowledge and perception accuracy, of intervals of one's position along the neshomahguf spectrum, just as there are among the nations of the world at large. This is what accounts for the very wide range of levels of religiosity within the Jewish people, expressed both through emotional fervor and behavioral commitment. Consequently, here too, we encounter the double-sided-joke-phenomenon, wherein the less knowledgeable and observant the person is the more he views those of higher intelligence and religious commitment to be 'crazy' or strange, and on the flip side, the more enlightened and neshamadik the person is the more he will be humored by the lifestyles of those in lower and less fortunate standings. The greater and deeper a person's understanding is of "Ain od milvadothere is nothing other than Hashem" and the more he is connected to this 'foundation of foundations and pillar of wisdoms' (to quote the

Rambam) then the more he is struck and astounded by anything which reflects a notion of something outside of Hashem's Oneness. And here again, to an even greater extent, the proper reaction is always to do whatever possible to effectively elevate one's fellow Jewish siblings to rise in their respective levels of knowledge and closeness to Hashem. At the same time, this also serves as a lesson for every person in anavah, that we must recognize that if we see other groups or individuals acting in a manner that appears to be more religious, and sometimes humorous, we must not laugh it off or poke fun, but rather have the strength of character and humility to recognize that quite often this is because of our lack of knowledge and their higher standing in the neshomah-guf scale. Really, it should be a stimulant to us to work harder and strive farther into ourselves, to reach farther up into our spiritual side, to attain greater levels of perfection, to see things in a more accurate and complete light, so that we too can appreciate more of the true humor. Returning to the gemara of Rabah saying a 'milsah de'bedichusah' before the shiur, we now begin to get the joke. The more we raise ourselves on our personal ladders to become more elevated and neshoma-based, and thereby closer to Hashem and deeper connected to His Wisdom and Willthe Torah, then the more our point of view flips around, the more pleasant surprises and jokes we encounter, and the more we are filled with laughter and joy. The greater and deeper our understanding of Hashem's worldplan, which is what comprises the Torah on all of its many levels, the more we take hold of His amazing chiddushim (novelties) as well as jokes, and become accustomed to the fact that the true, inner perspective on life is often not consistent with that of the masses. Rabah was teaching his students that the words of the Torah (Written and Oral) as well as the outer layers of life may not be taken at their superficial level. One's preconceived notions and assumptions can not be accepted blindly. In order to find the jokes, the true, precious jokes of Hashem, one has to search and probe vigorously into all that his senses show himinto the Chumash, the Gemarah, the world around him, the world inside of him, etc. One has to break throughwith his determined spiritthe dark shackles that have been placed upon his mind and soul by the guf and it's narrow and lowly worldviews. This is what the Yalkut explained above, that jokes and laughter serve as a way of opening up the "lev", on two levels: First of all, the natural and immediate emotional reaction of laughter and joy that is triggered within the person loosens up his psyche. The limiting constraints caused by fear and worry are relaxed, the 'ice is broken' and thoughts and feelings can now flow more freely. The life and creative juices within his mind and soul can express themselves and be activated [this would appear to be the explanation of Rashi on the Gemara in Maseches Shabbos]. Of course, as our gemara makes clear, this mindset must be counterbalanced by the firm recognition of the seriousness and sanctity of the Torah which the person is about to learn. It is not, by the terms of the vernacular, "a joking matter" which can be treated lightly in any way. The study of Torah is considered the greatest of all mitzvos and the most important and vital activity that we can engage in on Earth. Nonetheless, the loose mindset created by humor is appropriate and necessary as explained above. But beyond that, through Rabah's juxtaposing the comedy to a shiur of Torah, it taught his students the above lesson that there are plenty of jokes and surprises to be found in what they're about to learn; chiddushim, sodos (secrets) and pelaim. And accordingly, they have to be reaching out

to attain them, bending a bit the boundaries of what their minds primitively set as the limits, to check and see if the truth they are looking for just may lie slightly beyond those lines. They have to brace themselves for the bittersweet reality (bitter in the beginning, sweet in the end) that the emes'eh pshatthe truth of the matteris not always as it would appear from the superficial view, from the unexamined and unpenetrated outer layers of life. They must have humility, courage, determination, and above allan absolute commitment and dedication to the truth, no matter how funny or strange it may seem at first, to other people or to himself. The truth is not impressed by public opinion, rather It quietly laughs inside, and patiently awaits the time when It will get the last laugh and joy in spreading Its light out on to the public and impressing it. There is a great story that I heard from the Rosh Hayeshiva of Ner Yisrael, HaRav Aharon Feldman Shlita, that acutely illustrates this idea. The story is about Rav Yechezkel Abramsky, one of the outstanding talmedei chachamim of the last century. He was once staying at a summer resort together with a younger student of his, and master and pupil went for a swim together. As they were in the water, Rav Abramsky, out of the blue, gave a little splash to his talmid. The talmid was no doubt quite taken aback that his elderly and highly-distinguished Rebbe would give him a splash. R' Abramsky was probably the last person in the world to be expected of engaging in such childish behavior! The Rebbe explained: "Sometimes in learning(and in life) you have to know how to play a little bit". If one just follows the normative current of things then his level of life will remain low and stagnant. To attain a life of true enrichment and greatness one has to twist it and play a bit, expand the horizons, think outside of the box. Then, through the efforts of his creativity and sincere searching, Hashem will uncover his eyes to show him His wonders"Gal ai'nie ve'abitah niflaos mi'Torah'sechah". Now, this may be nice and perhaps a little bit funny, but what does any of it have to do with the last day of Pesach? So, I could just say that it doesnt, and that would be a joke, because its unexpected. However, the truth is that I believe it does have much relevance to the time period which we find ourselves in, on multiple levels. First of all, Pesach is not only a time of our physical liberation, but as we all know, for our spiritual liberation just as much if not more so. And one of the aspects of this spiritual freedom is the aforementioned idea, the opening up of the lev, the Jewish mind and soul, to broader and brighter horizons. The most significant part of a personhis neshamahis literally in bondage as long as his scope of vision and knowledge is constrained and darkened by the guf-centered environment that surrounds him. In our yetziah from Mitzrayim we experienced, and again re-experience to a degree every year subsequent, an uplifting display of Hashem's Onesess and greatness, together with a bigpicture viewing of the general world-plan that He has designed, and from this we are liberated and elevated to new heights of perspective and aspiration. We can take in everything from a more holistic point-of-view, and from that high perch look back at our previous perceptions of what is true and meaningful, what is going on in the world, who's in charge and where's it all heading, and we are filled with a double sense of jubilation and laughter: first from the many chiddushim that we learn and the new perspective that we attain, and additionally from the fact that previously we had been so far off! And the freedom is one of eternity, a "chairus olam", both in time and space. Once the lev has been freed up it can forever soar, higher and higher, to reach for the never-ending layers of truth that it so deeply yearns.

On another level, but essentially the same idea from an eschatological perspective, the month of Nissan that we are currently in is heralded by Chazal as the time of the geulah hashleimahthe complete fruition of our absolute freedom, from all the exiles and wanderings, the darknesses and confinements, that have filled our national history. Just as we were redeemed from Mitzrayim in Nissan, so too, we are destined to be redeemed in Nissan in the Days of Moshiach. And David Hamelech in Tehillim has already foretold us what will be the general reaction of those glorious times and revelations: "Az yimalei schoke pinu u'leshoneinu rinahThen laughter will fill our mouths, and our tongues song", or as his son Shlomo Hamelech put it in Mishlei: "Va'tizchak le'yom acharonAnd She will laugh on the last day". The entire world will be full of delight and amazement as Hashem's Truth shines clear for all to know, and from the wonders and jokes of His Creation and Production, a tiny fraction of which have been mentioned above but mostly awesome, breathtaking chiddushim from the shiurim of Melech Hamashiach, we will all be caught between captivating, reverent belief and joyous laughter and song (ala the preface to 'Az Yashir' at the climax of the Geulas Mitzrayim "Va'yar Yisrael es ha'yad ha'gedolah" ve'gomer). Then the name of Yitzchak (with the futuristic 'yud') will be in full bloom. The world will be turned over neshamah-sideup and we will experience the exhilaration of a universal "ve'nahapoch hu". Thus, in light of this, as well as the fact that we are just beginning our sefirah-journey towards Shavuos, the time of the giving of the Torah, it behooves us to follow in the saintly Rabah's footsteps and to start telling jokes, true jokes, divine jokes, and with that we will all merit to rejoice and laugh together with Mashiach Tzidkeinu, in fulfillment of the prophecy "Keemay tzayscha mi'mitzrayim er'enu niflaosLike the days of your leaving Mitzrayim I will show him wonders", b'mehairah bi'yameinu.

Le'iluiy nishmas Ari Noam ben David Yehuda Grashin, a young man who amazed all those that knew him, inspired them to think outside the box and to laugh, and who was truly an "ish ki yaphlee"larger than life.