Several years ago, I had the chance to meet comedian Jackie Mason in a New York deli. During that thirty second conversation, it was obvious that Jackie Mason on stage was the same Jackie Mason in daily life. He knew how to make us laugh, but he also allowed us to look at the world with a Jewish perspective.
Mason once said that when he saw a contradiction in an individual or in the world, “I think of the Talmud and build the joke from there.” Our tradition is not one to laugh at, but rather a collection of history and stories to bring us from darkness to light.
As the Jews journey toward the edge of the Promised Land, Moses lectures the people of their past travails while foreshadowing the blessings to come in the Promised Land.
Moses tells us in this week’s parshat, Ekev, “God subjected us to hardship but then gave us manna to eat.”
From this verse, the Rabbis draw a comparison between past years of struggle and future years of bounty.
How long will the Messianic period last? Rabbi Eliezer claims 40 years, for just as we were in the desert for 40 years, so too should our joy be for 40 years.
Rabbi Dosa believes the Messianic age to be 400 years, for we learn in Psalm 90, samchenu ki-ymot eeneetanu: Give us joy for all the days we have been afflicted.
That is the essence of Jewish humor. We do not not laugh at the harm and atrocities brought upon our people, generation after generation. Yet, we consistently search for a moment to smile, make the effort to find joy, and eventually, we must laugh again. God, give us joy.