Have Fun, Don't Make Fun
It's great to have fun. But having fun doesn't mean making fun of things that should be taken seriously. In this week's Torah portion, Korach was able to convince people to do improper and harmful things, with very unfortunate consequences, by mocking and making fun of Moses' and Aaron's wise and caring leadership. Sarcastic mockery can make us lose control of ourselves, and say and do destructive things we'll later regret.
In our story, a some kids discover that it's possible to laugh themselves into big trouble.
Anyone who heard us coming must have thought he was listening to a comedy show instead of a group of kids on a nature hike. But what could we do? Janet was hilarious.
At first, she began making fun of the names of the different plants and animals Donna, our guide, was describing. We couldn't help giggling when she asked her what color the gray fox was, and we really cracked up after the guide pointed out some Sycamore trees, and Janet said she was 'sick-of-more' trees too, and wished we could all just go home. When she asked her where the next Coke machine was on the trail, I thought I was going to lose it. The guide tried to smile and go along, but you could tell she wasn't crazy about Janet's constant heckling.
After a while, Janet began to make fun of the rules Donna was giving us. When she requested that we only walk on the trail, Janet said behind her back that it must be because she didn't want us to get the woods dirty with the mud from our hiking boots. And when we had to wait in line after she told us only one kid at a time could walk across the shaky rope ladder going across a stream, Janet said she just wanted to slow us down because she was getting paid by the hour.
Deep down I knew it wasn't nice to make fun of someone like that, but let's face it, the kid was funny and it was hard to keep from laughing.
The jokes kept going on and on, and by the time we got to the lake, Janet had us in the palm of her hand. Somehow, she made it seem like everything the guide would say or do, no matter how serious, was just hilariously funny. We could tell that all the wisecracks and our constant cracking up was getting the guide upset, but we just couldn't stop ourselves.
"Okay everybody," said Donna, "now we're going to canoe across the lake."
"What, you mean we're not going to walk across it?" quipped Janet. Laughingly, she and I teamed up together in one of the canoes.
"Everybody remember to tie on your life jacket, and whatever you do, don't stand up in your canoe!" warned the guide as we began to paddle out into the water. Fortunately, we were far enough away by then that she didn't hear us crack up at Janet's sarcastic reply.
The lake was really pretty, and the sun reflecting on the calm water made it look like glass. "Too bad I forgot to bring my camera," I sighed.
"No sweat, Sarah, I've got mine," smiled Janet as she pulled the small digital out of her knapsack. "Okay, stand up for a second so I can get a good shot of you."
"Hey, what are you talking about? The guide told us that standing up in the canoe can make it tip and cause us fall in the water!"
Janet just rolled her big blue eyes and said, "No, you got it wrong, Sarah. She said anyone who doesn't give HER a tip will fall in the water. Go ahead, pop up for a second, and let me take your picture."
We laughed so hard I thought I was going to drop my paddle, and the joking somehow made it feel okay for me stand up, even though the guide had warned us it was dangerous.
"Okay, say 'cheesecake'!" Janet yelled, pointing the camera my way. All of the sudden the boat began to rock, and suddenly there was a big SPLASH!! Before we knew it, both of us were in the freezing cold water and the canoe was upside down!
It was really scary, and it was a struggle to stay above water even with the life jacket on. Janet, who didn't even listen to the instructions to tie on her life jacket, was trying to hold onto the overturned canoe, and crying hysterically. Suddenly we felt ourselves scooped up into a rowboat.
"Boy was that dumb!" Donna yelled, shaking her head. "Lucky for you, I saw you starting to stand up and began rowing in your direction. In water like this, there could have been a real tragedy." She glared at us. "I suppose you'll just laugh this off too, like everything else I've been trying to tell you all day?"
Janet and I looked at each other, ashamed. Laughing was the last thing on either of our minds, as we realized it was all the sarcastic joking that made us ignore her serious instructions and do something so foolish.
"I'm really sorry," said Janet, still shaken up. "You were doing your job and trying to help us. My joking was out of line and way overboard," she added with a weak smile, "in more ways than one."
Q. How did Sarah, the girl in the story, feel about Janet's joking around at first?
A. She felt it was funny, and there was nothing wrong with it.
Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. She felt like some things have to be taken seriously and not be joked about.
Q. What do you think was the connection between Janet's joking around and what happened with the canoe?
A. When we joke around about things, especially in a sarcastic way like Janet did, it can make it hard to know what should be taken seriously and what not. That is why Sarah agreed to stand up in the canoe, although she would never otherwise.
Q. Does that mean there is something wrong with laughing and having fun?
A. Not at all. In fact being happy and enjoying life is one of the most important guidelines in the Torah. But we have to be sure our joy is coming from a healthy place, and not from mocking and making fun of people and things that should be taken seriously.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. What is the difference between healthy laughter and unhealthy laughter?
A. Healthy laughter comes from a positive feeling of the joy of living and appreciating the good in our lives. Unhealthy laughter, from sarcasm and cynical mockery, is negative - and usually centered around putting people and things down. It makes life and even the things that are important to us, like our safety and values, seem like one big joke. Mockery is one of the greatest impediments to spiritual growth.
Q. Our sages teach that one word of mockery can undo a thousand words of wisdom. What do you think this means? Do you agree?
A. The wisdom we acquire gradually adds up and gives us the tools we need for living a successful life filled with genuine values and priorities. It is the nature of mockery to 'turn off' our minds, and short-circuit our better judgment, causing us to at least temporarily forget all our hard-earned wisdom.