aired February 23, 2013 on Dave’s Gone By. Youtube clip: http://youtu.be/e9ICds0fO8k
Shalom Dammit! This is Rabbi Sol Solomon with a Rabbinical Reflection for the week of February 24th, 2013.
Happy Purim everybody! A wonderful day on the Jewish calendar where we give thanks that we weren’t all killed by Persians a couple of thousand years ago. We celebrate by reading the book of Esther, giving shalach manos – which is a charitable donation of food and snacks to people we care about. We celebrate by putting on costumes, getting drunk, and, in certain areas of the world, watching Nascar.
I like to celebrate by spreading laughter, by telling a joke or two, and then explaining the joke for people who are too shikkered up on Kedem to get the punchlines. Or, more importantly, the moral.
Let’s begin with the tale of three sons, nice grown Jewish boys, all of them successful abroad, all of them forever trying to impress their mama back in Brooklyn.
They meet for lunch in London, and the oldest son, Moishe, says, “I built mama a three-story house near Prospect Park. She just moved in last week.”
The second boy, Yitzchak, says, “Well, I bought mama a brand-new Mercedes with a round-the-clock driver to take her anywhere she wants to go.”
Avi, the youngest son, says, “I’m the only one who’s really thinking of mom’s needs. I bought her a parrot!”
“A parrot?” the other two go. “What are you meshuggeh?”
“Not at all,” says Avi. “Mama’s a widow, she’s lonely. I got her a beautiful parrot that is also brilliant. I spent thousands of dollars getting language teachers to teach the bird English, Hebrew and Yiddish. And then I paid a Rabbi even more money to help the parrot memorize all five books of the Torah, so whenever mama wants, he can recite.”
Just at that moment, Moishe’s cellphone rings, and it’s mama on the phone. He puts her on speaker and says, “Mama we’re all here. How do you like our gifts?”
And the old woman’s voice comes out the phone and says, “Well, to be honest, the house is very nice, Moishe, but it’s so big. I can’t deal with the cleaning, and I get lost from room to room. I think I’ll move back to my apartment.”
Moishe sighs and hands the phone to his brother. “Yitzchack,” the mother says, “I know you mean well, but a German car? And that driver, he never shuts up. Really, I’d rather walk.”
Yitzchak deflates and hands the phone to the third brother. “Avi, my youngest,” the mama says. “Thank you! Thank you! What a perfect gift! The chicken was delicious!”
We have all heard the old adage, “It’s the thought that counts.” It’s not how much money it costs or how puffed up you feel by making an impression. It’s trying to please the person you are gifting. You could buy a $200 pair of Nikes, but if you give them to Oscar Pistorius, what’s the point? Of course, if you gave him a Smith-Wesson, that he might have use for.
A studious but poor young Rebbe would sit in the backyard of his little shul and ponder and ponder and ask questions of God. This went on for months, years, until one day, HaShem decides to make it a conversation.
“I’m here,” He says, “What do you wanna know?”
“Well,” says the Rebbe, “I’ve been thinking about the nature of time. For example, what is a million years to you?”
God says, “You’re a human. A million years to you is just one second to me.”
The Rabbi thinks a little bit and says, “What about money? What is a million dollars to you?”
“Ha!” God laughs, He says, “a million dollars to you is less than a penny to me. It’s a pittance.”
“In that case,” the Rabbi says, “can I have a million dollars?”
“Sure,” says God, “in a second.”
If there’s one thing that Jews seem to know better than almost any other religion is that God, if He exists, follows His own rules and principles. We can assuage him with prayers and good deeds, we can interpret the Torah six ways to Shabbos, but really, HaShem does what He does, and we all follow furtively along. Like storm chasers. Get too near the tornado, you’ve got the Tower of Babel; stray too far from the tornado, and you wander for forty years. So the best bet is to pursue God with a lot of awe, a little fear, and a good pair of binoculars.
Last joke: What’s the difference between an Orthodox Jewish wedding, a Conservative wedding, a Reform wedding and a Reconstructionist wedding?
Simple. In an Orthodox wedding, the bride’s mother is pregnant. In a Conservative wedding, the bride is pregnant. A Reform wedding, the Rabbi is pregnant. And in Reconstructionist, both brides are pregnant.
What I love about this joke is that despite the mockery, it embraces all the different strands of Jewish practice. You don’t have to wear a fur hat and payes – especially if you’re a woman. Or if modern ways are a little too modern, you can create the niche of Jewish custom that works for you. So, if you want to celebrate Purim by going to synagogue and singing and hearing the megillah, great! If you don’t observe Purim at all, but you’re a good person and Jewish in your heart, also great. And if you’re somewhere in the middle, but you wanna send me some shalach manos – prune is my favorite, though the apricot isn’t bad.
This has been a Rabbinical Reflection from Rabbi Sol Solomon, Temple Sons of Bitches in Great Neck, New York. Purim Sameach!
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