Thursday, September 17, 2009

Shana Tova! Complete With Sumo Wrestling!

On my morning walk to Hadar, I met Lief (Leaf?), one of the cast of characters I occasionally encounter in the morning. The first time I met Lief over the summer, we shared a series of jokes, and when I saw him again, I asked him if he had any new ones.

Here it is (I changed the priest to a rabbi because, you know…):

One night after Maariv, a rabbi gets into a cab to go home. Unfortunately, there is an accident, and both the rabbi and the cabdriver are killed. Nebuch. Luckily, however, both of them reach heaven, and are welcomed in by God, who shows the rabbi to a lovely little house in a great neighborhood, and with a full set of Shas on the bookshelf. The rabbi is feeling pretty happy, until he looks out of his window, and sees the cabdriver in a beautiful mansion. Confused and upset, he approaches God and says: “Dear God, I dedicated my life to you! Why do I get the small house, while the cabdriver gets a mansion?”

To which God replies: “You encouraged people to pray. When they were in his cab, they meant it.”

(This obviously takes place in Manhattan)

Warning: I’m about to ruin the joke by over-analyzing it. Feel free to leave now, while you’re still smiling.

For those of you still with me, I think this joke points to two important aspects of prayer, namely, that meaningful prayer is often easier to obtain in nontraditional settings, and that motivating someone to work on their relationship with God is easier when the impetus is fear, rather than love. On the one hand, as we go into Rosh HaShana, perhaps we should take to heart the question of “who will live and who will die” and see ourselves as if we are passengers in that cab, and really mean what we say when we pray for our lives, and the lives we hope to lead this coming year.

As we consider the joke, however, it is clear that meaningful prayer from fear is not depicted as something we should strive for. Nor is it portrayed particularly positively in more traditional sources; we just learned in Yoma, chapter 8, that sins are considered more leniently when the impetus for the teshuva is love, rather than fear. Perhaps what we should instead take from this joke is that it is not enough to know how to pray “properly” (the rabbi obviously did). The best type of prayer is not necessarily traditional, or the one that makes us feel great individually, but may be one that allows us to engage on a communal level, and induce powerful feeling in others. It’s not just about relating to God, but how others can relate to you while you are making a divine connection.

Shana tova.

And to start off the year right: Sumo Wrestling!

(HT: Friend of Hadar)

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