1 Posted by - January 14, 2014 - Parsha, Shemot


Parshat Yitro

re you able to find humor in life? Do you go a whole day without laughing? Being funny is not a goal in the eyes of the Torah, but laughing things off is. Laughing things off is a skill. You can learn it, once you understand some basic things about humor. People who laugh have a few rules, secret rules. Their laughter has 5 secret elements, at least while the person is laughing:

  1. They accept themselves and those around them for who they are.
  2. They do not get caught up with what other people think about them.
  3. They are willing to reach deep down to the child inside and find some playfulness and fun in life.
  4. They use creative thinking and, somehow, know how to generate it.
  5. They get rid of the “shoulds”  when things are not “the way things should be in life” and are able to “think out of the box.”  These five are connected to one another, and the 5th is the root of them all.

Laughing things off is powerful; it can help you deal with so much frustration in life. You can be much more successful if you use it to help you manage your emotions and reach goals you set for yourself. The Talmud teaches us that before giving a class on deep Torah subjects, Rabbah  would first say something to get everyone to laugh. (Shabbat 30b) It is much harder to focus on deep, difficult or frustrating issues when your state of mind is not positive and cheerful.  I can’t resist mentioning what happened in my house at 7:30 in the morning, while I was writing this article. My 3- year-old son was reprimanded for climbing up to the cabinets, looking for Shabbat treats. He made a face and stamped to the bathroom, proclaiming angrily to all of us as he went, “I am going to the bathroom, and I’m not coming back!!!” Only a child can think of such a line. To be able to laugh things off, we need to tap into the child deep inside, regardless of how old or serious we are. We need to see things “out of the box” in order to laugh things off. And at times, this is the only way we can connect with our children. By playing with them on their level, at least once in a while. Sometimes we have a hard time understanding them, because of all the “shoulds” we have in life.

Are you in the “could “or the “should” state of mind? “What would be the greatest thing that you could do?” is a more effective thought than “What should I be doing?” Should can break you down. Could can resuscitate  the depressed.

The Chassidic masters add a great twist to the commentary on this week’s parsha. לא תעשה לך כל פסל וכל תמונה אשר בשמים ממעל…. Literally, you should not make for yourself any idol , or picture of that which is in the sky above… This commandment forbids making pictures of things in the heavens. One must not make or own a picture or sculpture of the sun , the moon or a star, if there is no cloud covering part of them, or if the image resembles one of the heavenly bodies, even if it is not an object of worship. The Chassiddic twist is, don’t make yourself a picture of how things should look or be in life. In plain English, Don’t play G-d.  Our “shoulds”, our expectations, are many times built upon what we have seen, perspectives borrowed from people we are close to, things we have gotten used to. It is a great thing to know and realize what one could do, but how things should be is a killer thought. Don’t confuse it with the “could” thoughts, which are the best thoughts you can have.

When did “should” thoughts kill? According to Victor Frankel, Aushwitz survivor, to survive the hell of the Holocaust, one  had to survive in spirit, to survive emotionally. Some people were able to see a beautiful sunset in Aushwitz and say, “Wow! Look how beautiful the world could be!”  There should not have been a holocaust. But there was. People should not have had to suffer in such a way. But they did.  The “should” thought would sap prisoners of their emotional energy. The ones who were able to come up with a “could” thought made it. Their world was hell, not one that was worth fighting to stay alive for. People who survived the Aushwitz labor camp had a world view different from those who did not. They saw a world that could be better.

My three year old boy, who is still in the bathroom, merited having a great man be his Sandack at his Brit Milah. R’ Elyashiv, zt”l. After the Brit, I took a boy I was coaching to the great Rabbi.  The boy was not happy in his yeshiva. He asked R’ Elyashiv for a beracha to get into a certain yeshiva he had in mind. R’ Elyashiv answered him, but with a different blessing. “I bless you that you get into the yeshiva that is best for you.” The Talmud tells us that  a person should never pray that he marry a certain girl, because, in the long run, that girl might not be good for him. One should pray for the right girl, in the right time.(Moed Kattan 18b)

People in all areas of life suffer from making pictures of how things “should” be. In dating, the repercussions of this habit are at their worst. They stop daters from getting married. Before the date, it is important to find out that your values, interests, and beliefs match with those of the person you are dating. But so many times, relationships are broken off because someone says, “Everything is fine with the date… I just did not picture my spouse this way.” Just see if you can have a good time on the date; see if you can enjoy courting. That’s what it is all about. After marriage, the relationship will be based on how you treat each other, how you talk to each other. You can never know what will be good for you in five years from now.  The problem begins when a person makes an HD picture of how his or her spouse should look, and if the candidate is different, they are not willing to continue. Who said that this picture you made for yourself  is good for you? Some fellows look to see if the girl they are dating is like their mother. Who said that you are like your father and that you need a girl like your mother? After making the proper inquiries before dating, all you need to do is to see if you enjoy being with each other. If you are in the judgmental zone during the date, deciding if this person fits the picture you want for yourself, the dating will never take off. You will not be able to enjoy just chatting, or opening up. It will be more like an interview than a schmooze.

Here in Israel, people have a saying: “The first year of marriage is either the best or the worst.” What does it depend on? The answer is thinking “should”.  Shoulds take all the vitality out of our relationships. My spouse should respond differently… should be more interested in what I am interested in. .. should be like my friend’s spouse or like my siblings. For some marriages, it takes a year to chuck the shoulds out the window. In some unfortunate cases, it takes much longer. However long it takes, that’s how much time will be needed to find serenity.

If you are not happy in life, it does not, necessarily, mean that there is a problem. Things can be fine, but because they are not how you pictured them, you suffer. Sometimes, it is because we feel G-d should have run our lives differently. Sometimes we punish ourselves when our expectations in school or in earning are not met. We should have done better. Try answering why it should be as you had pictured, and you will find that there is no reason; that’s just how things seemed to you.  G-d has his “shoulds”, and you have yours. Let’s see who wins. In Lashon Hakodesh there is no word should, because that state is theoretical: it does not exist. There is could, יכול, but not should. The only should is the 613 mitzvoth that we should be observing.

King David promises us ולשוננו רנה  אז ימלא שחוק פינו  In the end of days, we will laugh as no one has ever laughed before. Then, our mouths will be full of laughter. Because then, there will be clarity, and all of our “shoulds” will be gone; the only ones remaining will be those of G-d.


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