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Pt. 2: the mystical connection between laughter and redemption

Redeeming Laughter - Part 2

Redeeming Laughter - Part 2

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Redeeming Laughter - Part 2
Pt. 2: the mystical connection between laughter and redemption

We can note two elements in the above process of revelation of redemption (see Redeeming Laughter, pt.1), one deeply inspiring and comforting and one sobering. Firstly: a very deep and central concept here is that the redemption is not simply the ending of the pain of ordeal, the release and relief felt on waking from terror. On the contrary, the ordeal itself, the suffering itself, becomes the redemption. This must be understood. Everything G‑d does is good, not just the end result. In the indescribable emotions the brothers must have felt when they realized they were facing Joseph was the understanding that what they had been through was essential, life-saving. They could appreciate every detail of the torment they had experienced as intrinsic to their happiness now, for without it they would not have achieved perfection. Now, in retrospect, they would not sacrifice one moment of their previous suffering! In fact they would savor and cherish each of those moments for the rest of their lives. The ultimate irony is that when the truth is revealed, the problem is the solution…

That is the real joy of redemption, the realization that the ordeal and its resolution are in fact both the redemption. The ultimate humor, the ultimate irony is that when the truth is revealed, the problem is the solution. Ordeals remain ordeals, and often we are no more intelligible for this knowledge at all; yet knowing that these trials are the substance of ultimate reality, that this suffering will be a source of one's happiness, is exactly the deep source of strength that one needs.

The second element we note is this. We said that the experience of moving from crisis to redemption causes laughter. The juxtaposition of such extremes, so suddenly, is the root of spiritual laughter and that is the meaning of: "Then our mouths will be filled with laughter" (Psalms 126:2) and: "She laughs at the last day".(Proverbs 31:24) However when Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, it does not state that they laughed. Quite the contrary, their shock was extreme. Let us understand this.

When someone goes through a sudden reversal of state - or to put it in extreme terms when the practical joke is played - the humor of the situation is obvious, but only to the onlookers. The one who is experiencing this sudden change does not see the humor at all. The shock of being forced to admit, of being brought face to face with one's false image, one's dearly-held but wrong convictions, one's imperfect personality structure, is no laughing matter. And if those brothers, men of consummate spiritual greatness who had just now corrected their personal error, were shocked at the revelation of truth - how will we feel? When this world is turned upside-down at the redemption, the joke will be on those who must themselves be turned upside-down…

When this world is turned upside-down at the redemption, the joke will be on those who must themselves be turned upside-down. Jewish living therefore, is an attempt to live in opposition to the secular values of the world - if you like, to live upside-down here. When that final and massive inversion occurs, we would like to find ourselves already upright and able to witness the correction of values without needing the shock of experiencing it in our flesh.

These two elements always apply. In the mystical root there is an idea that G‑d Himself laughs, as it were. "He who sits in Heaven shall laugh, G‑d shall mock them (the wicked)". G‑d's laughter is directed at the fact that as evil intensifies, it generates its own annihilation. G‑d's management of the world's affairs so arranges things that all the evil machinations of the wicked rebound on themselves, an irony which mocks them in the deepest sense. Their negative actions turn out to be the source of their own destruction, and in spiritual terms this is the highest humor. While Pharaoh is desperately trying to destroy Jewish children so that the redeemer who has been foretold should not live beyond childhood, he is himself unwittingly raising that redeemer in his own household.

When Haman builds gallows for Mordechai, he is hung on those gallows himself. The forces he unleashes to destroy the Jewish people are themselves used to save them and destroy their enemies. In fact, at the heart of the message of Purim is "And it was overturned", or reversed. "Total inversion" is the Purim story. All the darkness of the Persian experience is manifest: G‑d's name is not mentioned in the Megilla, "Esther", in Hebrew, means "hidden", and even the fate of the Jews is sealed by pure "chance" - the drawing of lots. And all that changes to light: G‑d's name is surely revealed, and the very lots that fall out on Moses' yahrzeit (date of death) also "happen" to indicate his day of birth. The very same things, but their very opposite. Only through the darkness of ordeals can the light of personal growth be revealed…

That is the message of Purim, the mask and the removal of the mask. That is the laughter of Purim. And we learn that the light of the world, Torah, was ignited on Purim: although the Torah was accepted at Sinai, its deeper and more binding acceptance occurred at Purim. Since Sinai was incandescent with obvious revelation, say the commentaries, the Jewish people were forced to accept Torah - how could they deny it? But at Purim, where no revealed miracles took place and the only thing obvious was darkness, they were free to reject it, to refuse to see the divine hand in natural events. When they accepted Torah then, voluntarily, that was real acceptance; that is a permanent bond with Torah.

Only when there is a possibility of wrong can right be manifest. Only when it is difficult can meaningful progress occur. To expand a famous statement of the Zohar: Only through the darkness of ordeals can the light of personal growth be revealed.

To return to the first article on the Power of Laughter, click here

From "Living Inspired" (Targum Press)

Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz has lectured internationally in the fields of Jewish philosophy and medical ethics. He is the author of several successful books.
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