Airs Jan. 14, 2017 on Dave’s Gone By. Youtube: https://youtu.be/iQj24DuYeM0
Shalom, Dammit! This is Rabbi Sol Solomon with a Rabbinical Reflection for the week of January 14th, 2018.
Since we’ve just begun a new year, I don’t wanna get into race and immigration and fires and floods and Kim Jong Un and Palestinians and black dresses at the Golden Globes . . . I just wanna have a little fun. Let’s keep the brightness of the shanah chadashah going with something this old Rabbi loves almost as much deli meat: jokes. Jokes with a Jewish perspective.
For example, my cousin Irving is an actor in New York, so, of course, he’s unemployed. He gets a call from his agent who says, “I’ve got a job for you. It’s a little unusual, but it pays well, and it uses your mime skills—which, let’s face it, how often, right?”
“Great,” says Irving. “Where do I go?”
“The Bronx Zoo,” says the agent. “And bring a banana.”
So, warily, Irving makes his way uptown and checks in with the zookeeper, who says, “Here’s the deal: Koko, our 38-year-old gorilla, died over the weekend. While we’re waiting to buy a new ape, we don’t wanna lose the crowds. Your job is to dress up in a gorilla suit, go in the cage, and act like a monkey. Fool everyone, and you’ve got the gig for a couple of weeks.”
With no better prospects, Irving agrees, gets in the cage, eats the banana, and starts behaving in an ape-like fashion. And he really gets into it: jumping around, mimicking the crowd, throwing his feces, swinging on the bars. In fact, Irving is so method, he climbs on a rope and tries to swing himself to a tree branch. Unfortunately, he loses his grip and falls into the lion’s cage.
“Gevalt!” screams Irving. “Help me, help me!” as the lion strides towards him. Suddenly, the animal rears up on its hind legs, crouches over Irving and whispers, “Be quiet, schmuck! You wanna get us both fired?”
Now, this is not, per se, a Jewish joke, except for the schmuck part and the out-of-work Jewish actor part. But we can say the perspective is Jewish-esque because it concerns people doing whatever they must to get by. Heaven knows, and heaven does know, what the Jewish people have endured and the sacrifices they’ve made, just to survive in ancient Egypt, or 15th century Spain, or the Warsaw Ghetto, or the 15-items-or-less line at ShopRite. If that means letting someone in power make a monkey out of you, at least the gorilla eats and lives to swing another day.
Now, from swinging we move to skiing, and the Olympic tryouts in Montreal. Vying for the last spot to get into the Olympics were three champion skiers: an American, a Muslim, and an Orthodox Jew. In the final qualifying round, each athlete was allowed to have his trainer place something on the course to motivate and inspire them, which they did.
The trials begin, and the American zips down the slope in record time: 45 seconds. Then the Muslim shusses down the same course: 43 seconds. He’s on top. Finally, the Chassid starts his run, and everyone’s waiting and waiting and waiting. Five minutes later, he finally crosses the finish line.
So the athletes are on their platforms, and the reporters ask their trainers what happened. The American trainer says, “Well, at the starting gate, I put a pile of money. This was a reminder of the commercials and endorsement deals he’d get if he makes the Olympics.”
The reporters then ask the Muslim trainer, “Hey, congratulations. How’d you motivate your athlete to win?”
The trainer says, “Simple. At the finish line, I held up a giant poster of 72 virgins. Who wouldn’t wanna ski towards that?”
Finally, the reporters turn towards the Jewish trainer. They say, “Yankel Bernstein was favored to win this race. Instead he made the slowest time ever. What happened?”
“I dunno,” said the trainer. “I certainly tried to make him feel at home here in Montreal. That’s why I put a mezuzah on every gate.”
This silly but adorable joke gives us another insight into the Jewish character. Looked at one way, we can see that religious life is filled with time-consuming, seemingly unnecessary rituals: do this, wash that, don’t eat that, say this prayer, go to that shul. But we also receive great comfort from engaging in the same activities, in the same way, that our great-great-great and not-so-great grandparents did. More importantly, this joke reminds us that there’s always time to stop and take a moment and center yourself in the universe. Buddhists might set aside a meditation break, Arabs kneel and pray five times a day, Protestants have their four-o’clock gin and tonic. So for a Jew to plant a shmutchka on a Torah scroll when going into a room? Whom does it hurt?
Okay, time for our final joke. Benjy’s been working for the company five years, never had a raise. His wife hocks him and hocks him, so finally, timidly, he goes up to the big boss and says, “Look, I don’t wanna make trouble, but my wife says we need help with the bills, she says I deserve more than I’m making, she says I’m entitled to ask for a raise.”
The boss looks at Benjy and says, “Tell you what: come back tomorrow; I’ll give you the answer.”
“Okay,” says Benjy. “But why not now?”
The boss says, “I have to ask my wife.”
If you are married, I do not have to explain this joke. If you are not married: please, go out and live a little for the rest of us!
Meanwhile, the rest of us will regale ourselves with jokes, and start the new year with a spring in our step and a wiggle in our payes. And may we be blessed with that luxury for just another 51 weeks.
This has been a Rabbinical Reflection from Rabbi Sol Solomon, Temple Sons of Bitches, in Great Neck, New York.
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