The Jokester Kabbalist

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The Jokester Kabbalist

Yehuda Yeshurun
May 11, 2021
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The kabbalists explain that there are three ways to connect and draw Light from righteous souls who have left this world: visiting their resting place, reading from their words of wisdom, or reading stories about them. With each story read, we not only draw from the Light that these righteous souls revealed but also the gift of the lesson taught by that kabbalist.

One of the prominent students of Rav Elimelech of Lizensk was called Rav Naftali Tzvi from Rufshitz. He would start every lecture with a joke, famously stating that the fastest way to connect to the Creator is with laughter and brevity. Even as a child in school, he would often fall into fits of clowning around and making jokes. This, of course, distracted the class and the teacher, who was none too happy for it.

“Naftali,” his teacher said, pulling him aside after another disruption in the class, “I know you love to make people laugh and see joy on their faces, but you cannot do it during school time. It distracts everyone and isn’t respectful. I see a great soul in you, and I want you to express yourself in the most powerful way. I have a challenge for you: don’t tell any more jokes during school time for one whole year, and let’s see what happens.”

Little Naftali looked solemnly at his teacher and, with great internal strength and determination, replied, “Yes, I accept. I’m sorry to have disrupted your teachings for all this time.”

Later that day, the classroom and teacher went to make their connection with the afternoon prayer of Mincha. While Naftali Tzvi and all the other kids finished their prayers quickly, their teacher meditated for an hour. When he finished his meditation, he turned around to see all the boys laughing at something Naftali Tzvi had said.

For the second time that day, the teacher pulled Naftali Tzvi aside.

“I thought you made a commitment not to say any jokes for the whole year. What happened?”

Not even able to keep the smile from splitting his face in two, Naftali Tzvi replied, “Yes, but your prayer took so long I thought a whole year had passed!”

Naturally, prayers and meditations are times during the day we should take seriously. Reflecting on our day, asking the Creator for assistance and strength, and drawing powerful energy is nothing to take lightly (although perhaps Lightly). Yet sometimes, there are moments where a joke and laughter can pierce the thickest veils around our soul. As Karen Berg once wrote, “Laughter can lift us from a bout of sadness reminding us how funny and beautiful life can be. Laughter can save us from our ego. It can save us from ourselves.”

May the merit of Rav Naftali Tzvi of Rufshitz awaken more joy and laughter in our lives. And may this laughter help us create something for the world that makes it just a little brighter because we are in it.


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