These articles appeared on They are adapted from It's Okay to Laugh, Seriously!

Why Being Foolish Can Be Holy


As children, we may have been told, “Stop acting so silly!” No one ever said, “Start acting silly!”
So as adults, acting foolishly may feel unnatural. But sometimes, foolishness is the best way to connect to G‑d—holy foolishness, that is. Such is the subject matter of a discourse that the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, prepared to share with his followers in honor of his grandmother’s yahrtzeit (anniversary of passing) on 10 Shevat. The Rebbe passed away on that very day, 10 Shevat, before he was able to present the discourse, but its many chapters were expounded by his successor, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, and continue to be studied each year at this time in his memory.
It may be Acting foolishly may feel unnaturalhard for us, having painstakingly learned to curb (most of!) our childish behavior, to conceive of foolishness as actually desirable, and yes—veritably holy. But just see the caliber of people who were accused of acting foolishly. Venerable though they were, in each case their contemporaries needed to see patent divine validation of their indecorous behavior.
  • Rav Shmuel bar Yitzchak would dance intensely at weddings, his body, hands and feet flying in all directions. His lack of inhibition disturbed his colleagues. It is a mitzvah to make a groom and bride happy, but they felt some decorum should be retained. They reproved him, “You are an embarrassment to Torah scholars!”1 But G‑d approved of his unabashed antics. At his funeral, a pillar of fire in the shape of a myrtle branch separated his bier from the people who were escorting him. It was a clear vindication of his “foolish” behavior.
  • King David provides another model of uninhibited joy. Measured steps and majestic dancing could not contain his ecstasy at the Ark’s being brought up to Jerusalem. He flew, whirled and leaped, making him look like a “mindless fool,” in his wife’s words. But G‑d was pleased with his holy folly.
  • When a prophet received prophecy, he was called “crazy” because he was in an altered state of consciousness, a state divested of his ego, so that G‑d’s light could shine in him. (More prosaically, this is somewhat akin to the way jesters were seen as fools, and were therefore able to tell the truth to the most powerful rulers and dictators without censure.)
Holy folly can help us counteract the effects of our negative behavior as well.
Our Sages tell us that a person sins only because a “spirit of folly” (ruachshtut) enters him.2 In other words, when a person sins, it is an act of sheer insanity.3 What person in his right mind would want to create a rift between himself and his Creator?
When we sin, it is due to a loss of self-control. Impulsivity won. And, asMaimonides says, when we want to overcome a weakness, we go to the opposite extreme. So we counter the ruach shtut with shtut d’kedushah, “holy folly”—letting go with joyful abandon. We suffered a lapse because we didn’t take time to think things through. So now, we go from underuse of our brain to a supra-rational state of holy foolishness. We serve G‑d with abandon, with unrestrained joy, with holy insanity.
The power of mesirat nefesh (self-sacrifice) is another expression of folly. Rationally, it doesn’t make sense for a person to be ready to give up his life—but that’s what Jews do. Over the centuries, countless Jews have given up their lives rather than their religion—during the Inquisition, the Cossacks, the oppressive Soviet regime . . .
How do we have mesirat nefesh today, in our free, democratic society? By being willing to give up some comforts for the sake of serving G‑d, even if it means sacrificing some of our livelihood to keep Shabbat or our favorite foods to keep kosher.
Similarly, when we take a “leap of faith”—quieting the mind and submitting to the infinite powers of G‑d—we are practicing holy folly. We might think, How can I do that? What person of sound mind would rely on salvation from a source he cannot see? The heart cramps with fright. But we transcend our own logic and qualms, and place our trust in G‑d. That’s how we followed Moses into the desert, and that’s how we live each day—with faith and trust.
Richard Morris, a professional comedian who was one of the original writers for David Letterman, described how difficult it was when he initially began to keep Shabbat. His most important—and most well-paid—performances were on the weekends. “How will I survive?” he worried. But he took the leap, and the good news is that he is thriving, financially, professionally and spiritually.
We can get stuck in our limited capabilities, or have faith in His unlimited capacities. It might feel foolish to have faith, especially in today’s day and age. But foolishness is also the only way we can relate to G‑d—for none of us can understand Him. Infinite G‑dliness is beyond the reach of our intellect, beyond our imagination, completely incomprehensible.
If we are Remove your “self” from the equationall fools before G‑d, how do we know what the correct path is? G‑d has placed among us His agents—the righteous people of each generation who guide us. They may tell us to do something that goes against all rhyme and reason, but when we make the leap of faith, we are blessed with success.
So, go ahead, make a fool out of yourself. Tap into the uninhibited, silly behaviors that were dismissed during your childhood. Don’t be afraid to show your joy. Rejoice with others during their times of celebration. Rejoice with the Torah on Simchat Torah. Rejoice with G‑d every time you do a mitzvah.
If you have difficulty getting out of your box, remove your “self” from the equation. Remember, we can serve our egocentric smallness, or we can attach to His infinite greatness.


Harness the Body’s Passion to Increase the Soul’s Joy


Which experience do you think is more elevated—dancing up a storm at a wedding or talking toG‑d during your morning prayers? Savoring a jelly doughnut onChanukah or delving into a book of Torah?
If you said talking to G‑d or learning Torah, you’re not alone. Physical experiences are usually seen as superficial, transient, external, while spiritual experiences are seen as deeper, more lasting, more significant. And in a certain way they are.
Kabbalah,Physical experiences are usually seen as superficial however, introduces a paradox: At its source, the body is holier than the soul.1
Let me explain.
Our body’s status has undergone a major re-evaluation in the course of Jewish history and philosophy. In times past, the body was sometimes seen as an obstacle to serving G‑d, an adversary that we needed to battle. But the Baal Shem Tov emphasized that the body can (andshould) become our ally. It can be drafted to assist us in serving G‑d. Since the ultimate purpose of creation is to sanctify the physical world, the body offers the means by which to carry out G‑d’s will.
It is for this reason that Judaism fuses spiritual motives with bodily activities. For example, we voice our prayers rather than just reading them with our eyes. The most overflowing heart will not fulfill the obligation—the person has to physically move his lips. Have you ever seen Jews sway while they pray? The phrase “All my bones shall declare”2 means that the maximum energy possible should be expended in studying Torah, in prayer and in performing the mitzvahs—and certainly in the auxiliary joy we exude in their performance!
Likewise, we are meant to be joyful on Jewish holidays. But how do we know that joy is authentic? When it affects us, overwhelms us, involuntarily spilling into physical expression. On Purim, we dress up, we perform, we party, all in good fun and merriment. During the time of the Holy Temple, the water-drawing ceremony on Sukkot was marked by juggling, stunt shows and other fanfare. And of course, Simchat Torahcelebrations are legendary! Our joy envelops even our more physical and coarse aspects, down to the heels of our feet, as we dance with abandon! When the physical body participates in this spiritual joy, it elevates the physical inclinations.
And it is not just while doing mitzvahs that we should be joyful. Serving G‑d with joy can extend to every aspect of our lives. The Baal Shem Tov taught that every mundane activity—such as eating, sleeping, conducting business and even enjoying leisure time—can and should be a part of our Divine service, when it is done with the proper intentions. As it says in “Ethics of Our Fathers,” “All your actions should be for the sake of Heaven.”3 So by having the intention to serve G‑d with every action, and by infusing those actions with joy, we are synthesizing body and soul, heaven and earth.
So clearly, Judaism believes in the external expression of our inner joy. But Chassidic philosophy reveals a deeper dimension: the physical reality can actually enhance the spiritual reality, not just vice versa. I’ve coined a name for this fusion of transcendent motives with bodily activities: joyfusion! Joyfusion means hijackingJoyfusion means hijacking the physical in service of the spiritual the physical in service of the spiritual. It means harnessing the passion of the body to increase the joy of the soul.
Kabbalah explains that this world is a reflection of the World of Truth. What appears to be on a lower level here is really on a higher level at its source. So although the soul is incomparably more refined than the body, in the Days to Come the superiority of the body will be revealed.4 There will be no more tug-of-war between material and spiritual desires—the body and soul will coexist in harmony.
Let’s embrace our physicality—let’s dance our hearts out, laugh out loud and bring joy to others. And may these outward expressions of joy elevate our inner consciousness, bringing us closer to the redemption.

How to Merit the World to Come


Rav Beroka, a Talmudic sage, was surveying the scene in a marketplace together with the prophet Elijah. He asked the prophet, “Who in this marketplace is deserving of olam haba [the world to come]?”
Elijah pointed out two individuals who seemed quite ordinary to Rav Beroka. Curious to hear what they did to earn this remarkable reward, he questioned them. “We are comedians,” they told him. They related that in addition to entertaining people with their jokes, they would cheer up people who had quarreled. When the parties were happier, it was easier to make peace among them.1
This story piques the imagination. Elijah and Rav Beroka were not contemporaries; rather, Rav Beroka merited the revelation of Elijah the prophet. I would think Rab Beroka would have utilized every moment with Elijah to help solve unanswered Torah mysteries and riddles, or burning contemporary issues.
Yet he took the time to “survey the market,” like the marketing analysts of today. What are the “going” items? What commodity will be found noteworthy and of value?
Comedy turned out to be a winner. Their humor and laughter vouchsafed the two comedians a coveted assurance of immediate entry into the world to come. Humor and laughter are elevated and holy—when used with the right intentions. Joyous Jewish living is indeed a burning contemporary issue.
Let’s give a shout-out to the joy producers of today. They may not have training, titles, or framed certificates adorning their office walls. They may not use sophisticated strategies or psychological theories. But they bring joy to people, and that is a most important mitzvah!
And it is not just the professional comedians. We all have the capacity—and responsibility—to buy into the joy commodities market and bring joy to others.
G‑d responds to our initiative; when we’re joyous, it elicits His joy. So the more, the merrier. The more joy produced, the faster we leap into a state of permanent joy, the coming of Moshiach.

Adapted from Our Vogue, publication on the values of Jewish modesty:

Hold On to Your Partner!

“Hold your partner’s hand; don’t let go!” were the stern, ringing instructions of our kindergarten teacher whenever we left school for any kind of outing. I had entered school with the little child’s notion that life revolved around me and my needs, but was quickly discovering that it was about being faithful to your partner.
“Everything I needed to know about life I learned in kindergarten,” the saying goes. True to the axiom, my life was framed and defined by partnerships of all kinds ever since I held dutifully and tightly to my school partner’s hand.
Everything I needed to know about life I learned in kindergarten
I learned this concept in a very real way when my parents entered into a business partnership with a cousin. My parents’ partnership literally framed my childhood: the partner lived on the floor above us; the restaurant business was below us. All decisions had to be made together with the partner: who would open the store early in the morning or close it and clean up late in the evening, when my mother would need to work and when she had time off to tend the family, and so on. I learned early on that consideration and respect allow for success.
And when, through G‑d’s grace, I found my life’s partner, that kindergarten lesson stood me in good stead: Hold on to your partner! Like mountain climbers, we scaled the peaks of life as a pair. Mountain climbers tie themselves to each other with a rope, and they never untie that rope. They have to be very skilled and precise: if the length of the rope between them is too long, it may become frayed or ripped; neither can it be too short, or the two climbers will trip over each other, with disastrous repercussions. So, too, I knew to stick close to my partner, yet give him the room he needed to climb on his own.

When G‑d prepared to create Adam, He said, “Let us make man.” Who was the other partner?
G‑d was You will be responsible to make choicestelling man: “Let us ‘make’ man together. You will be responsible to make choices, reflect, plan, sacrifice your desires, and aspire to grow and improve yourself.” A man must become a mentch: he must strive to elevate himself above the self-gratifying drives of an animal. G‑d did not create man as a finished product, because His plan was that man should transform himself through his own efforts. We are dynamic partners with G‑d in making this world a G‑dly place through theTorah, our detailed partnership contract.
In our Friday night kiddush we say asher bara Elokim la’asot.” G‑d created this world “to do.” The Midrash explains that the word la’asotmeans “to perfect.” G‑d has created this imperfect world, and He asks us—and empowers us—to be His ultimate partner in making our world a better place.

Adapted from Our Vogue, publication on the values of Jewish modesty:

Find Glamour in the Grind


Do you feel stuck in a rut? Do you ever fantasize about making a bold change in your life, perhaps starting a new career or moving to another city?
Whether it’s our domestic chores, the daily challenge of homework with children or the endless list of things that need fixing, by the time a day is over, we’re exhausted. Novelty seems far away.
There’s a wonderful children’s story about a discontented stonecutter, whose backbreaking job it was to hack at a stone mountain all day with his heavy axe. What an inconsequential occupation, let alone a life’s mission. He didn’t want to chop at mountains; he wanted to movemountains! He wanted to be a mover and a shaker! A somebody. Do you feel stuck in a rut?And—he wanted an easier ride. This stonecutting was exhausting labor.
One day, a chariot transporting a mighty monarch passed by. “Ah,” thought the stonecutter, “to be a king—what a dream! It’s easy and so‑o‑o glamorous.” As he fantasized how wonderful and stimulating that role would be, presto! His wish became a reality, and he was suddenly sitting in a royal, splendid coach. How powerful and mighty he felt, issuing commands to his subjects—until the sun started to beat mercilessly on him. He realized the sun was mightier than he, and he wished to become the sun. Poof! He became the sun, beaming its powerful rays toward the earth.
But his quest to be the ultimate “someone” did not end there. He became the clouds that blocked the sun, then the powerful wind that was able to blow away the clouds, then the mountain that was able to stand its ground against the wind, until . . . a stonecutter came along and began to chisel away at his mountainside. When he realized what power the simple stonecutter wielded, power over the great big mountain, he decided to become—a stonecutter. He was back where he had started—but not really. There was new vigor in every chop and new glamour in every chip. Every small action was making a huge difference.
It’s tempting to fantasize about a better life. We’d love to dodge our own reality, our never-ending workload, the monotony of our existence. We dream of escaping, some exciting new means of self-fulfillment. And something easy. Who wants to work hard, anyway?
The world is a very exciting place, but if we don’t think that what we’re doing is any big deal, if we fail to see the redeeming value of our daily routine, we can become jaded and seek out fun-filled fantasies. We’re dazzled by things that have high visibility and make a public splash; we’re impressed by titles and multiple letters after one’s name. Our rational sight is clouded by the glitz and glare, while authentic Judaism is swept aside by the winds of “progress.”
Being out in the public eye, being conspicuous, noticed and wowed over is not the source of our distinctiveness. Were the cameras flashing whenMoses came to the rescue of the daughters of Yitro (Jethro) at the well? When the relieved daughters returned home and recounted how a stranger had delivered them from the shepherds’ malevolent mischief, Yitro asked them, “Where is he (Ayo)? A person of this caliber would This was an extraordinary display of modestybe a good marriage candidate for one of you.”
His query was an echo of an earlier verse in the Torah. “Where is she(Ayeh Sarah)?” the three angels asked about Sarah, their hostess in the desert. “Where is Sarah, in whose merit the world is blessed?”
Moses’s “no-show” reminded Yitro of Sarah. Moses did not follow Yitro’s daughters home, and so did not receive praise and recognition for his heroic act. This was an extraordinary trait of modesty, Maharal explains. Yitro realized that the stranger must be a descendant of the woman who prepared a beautiful repast for her guests but did not feel any need for recognition. Sarah remained inconspicuous, doing the ordinary everyday things that exceptional people do. It was enough for her to be in the right place at the right time.
The presumption that “to be noticed proves that I’m a somebody” is a fallacy. There’s a better, more effective way to be celebrated. Every act that we do with the correct intention is special. And G‑d cherishes every one of those acts, no matter how trivial—forever.
For G‑d values modesty. He values one who is focused on inner qualities, not externalities, accolades and attention.
What is most hidden is ultimately the most sought after.

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