Kabbalistic Concepts

Making Fun of Ourselves

In the portion Va’era, there were the first seven plagues. In the next portion, Bo, there are the last three. And the portion Bo begins with a special calling from the Creator to Moses to “Come to Pharaoh.” The Creator then goes on to say, "The reason these three plagues are going to come is because I want you to tell your children and grandchildren that I tortured the Egyptians." However, that is not the true explanation; that is not what it actually means. 

Rashi says that the true meaning of the word that is often translated as "torture," is really, "I made fun of Pharaoh." So, if we read it in that way, the Creator is saying to Moses, “The last three plagues are so that you can tell your children and grandchildren that I made fun of Pharaoh.” Further, the Ramban, Nachmanides, tells us that the Creator says, "I am making a joke of Pharaoh." Therefore, what is becoming manifest on Shabbat Bo, the Ramban says, is the verse from Tehillim, or Psalms, Chapter 2, Verse 4, where it states that “The One Who Resides in the Heavens laughs, and the Creator laughs at him,” or makes fun of that person. 

So, what is this? It is very interesting on many levels, but I want to focus on this idea of the Creator having a sense of humor. In the Zohar, it speaks about King David being called the jester in the king's court, or the king's jester. It tells us, for instance, that even when Nathan the Prophet came to King David to tell him about the things he had to correct, David found a way to make a joke. And the Creator, it seems, enjoyed King David's jokes. 

This whole concept of the Creator's sense of humor is beautiful. But, of course, more importantly, what are we to learn from it? When the Creator tells Moses that these plagues are coming so he will be able to tell his children and grandchildren, it means that Moses will come to this level of understanding the joke of Pharaoh. And because, on one level we know, as the kabbalists teach, that these stories are not stories between Moses, the Israelites, and Pharaoh, but actually, the stories of our lives, what the Torah is therefore hinting at here is that the way we can truly correct and grow is to start laughing at ourselves. For example, let’s say someone woke up this morning, was in a bad mood, and yelled at his spouse, and then came to work and somebody else upset him, so he lashed out at that person. And then, at the end of the day, that person looked back at his day and saw the things he should not do. That is one level, and what most of us do. 

However, there is a deeper level, which is more important. That deeper level is when we look back at our day or week, and say, about ourselves, "Whoever that guy was is an idiot; it is laughable the way that person behaved." And there is a very big difference between the two levels.  On one, we take ourselves very seriously: "Yes, I know, I should not have done that, and I see the things I need to correct." Yet, on the deeper level, we see the silliness of our behavior. So, what the Creator is telling Moses, and us, is that we will never become free of Pharaoh, free of our ego or Desire to Receive for the Self Alone, until we are able to laugh at it.

The Zohar speaks about the Negative Side as "an old and stupid king." The understanding, therefore, is that acting based upon the Negative Side's advice is silly, stupid, and laughable, and is a necessary evolution of our spiritual work. It is an important question to ask ourselves: When I look at my day, at my week, do I see things that I need to change? Or, am I at the level where I realize how silly and ridiculous my actions were? And only when we come to see our actions as silly and ridiculous, as the Creator does when looking at the stupidity and silliness of man, can we come to that level where we can really correct. 

We know, and this is taking it one level deeper because it is an important concept, that judgment, din, has to be sweetened in order for it to be removed. The kabbalists explain the way to sweeten judgment is through laughing. There were even certain tzaddikim, righteous people, throughout the generations who were known for their jokes; one who was very much known for his jokes, for example, was Rav Naftali of Ropshitz. 

The idea is that through a joke, through this level of making-fun, we can sweeten the judgments. Here, of course, we are talking about making fun of ourselves. Which means, now, at the end of the day when we do an accounting, saying, "Oh, that was not right, I need to not speak negatively, or get angry, like I did to that person today,” is only one level. Because the true sweetening of the judgment that we have created through those actions will only occur when we come to the point where we laugh at ourselves. When we are not a serious person looking at our day, saying, "Oh, I must do this or that better,” but rather, being able to laugh at listening to that old and foolish king as the Zohar calls it, which is our negative inclination, only then do we sweeten the judgment and make the real correction. 

So, the Creator was saying to Moses that these next three plagues in Egypt are happening so that he will come to the level of consciousness of being able to understand, as the Ramban says, the joke of the Desire to Receive for the Self Alone, the joke that is Pharaoh, the joke that is our falling to the Desire to Receive for the Self Alone. The Ramban brings the verse that the Creator laughs, seeing us behave in the ways of ego; it is a joke to the Creator. And when we start getting that joke, when we start looking at the way we behave and realize how ridiculous it is, and laugh, it is a completely different level of viewing of our life. 

Often, we take ourselves extremely seriously, we take the negative things we do and how we have to correct them very seriously; yes, that is one level. But it is a lower level. The ultimate level is when we look at our lives and we can say, “I behaved like that, I got angry at that person, I allowed myself to speak negatively in that way, and it is funny, it is a joke, it is ridiculous." And that level of understanding of our falling is what truly sweetens the judgment and makes the correction. 

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