Hey, God, the Joke’s on You!
Jewish humor loves poking fun at God. Although often gentle, jokes about God attempt to break the tension around the very human desire for a perfect God – one who hears our wishes and responds by making them come true. Such a “fairy Godmother” God has been problematic throughout time (and throughout Jewish history) because more often than not, our wishes don’t come true – at least not in the way we hoped they would. As the Yiddish proverb reminds us, “Man plans. God laughs.”
Jewish humor helps us wrestle with an imperfect God as we try to make sense of how and why we spend so much time praying to a God we aren’t quite sure hears our prayers. Jewish jokes articulate that human beings don’t know exactly what to make of a God who is not all powerful. In many jokes, we criticize and blame God for our human plight even as we believe that God has a unique relationship with the Jewish people.
For example, look at the relationship between God and Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. Throughout, Tevye addresses God often, asking in a Job-like way, “Why me God? Why the Jews?”
He does so with warmth and charm, but he also is quite irreverent: “I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can't You choose someone else?”
Later, Tevye says to God, “It may sound like I'm complaining, but I'm not. After all, with Your help, I'm starving to death.” Although God fails Tevye in many ways, God is still a good friend, someone he can talk to – like a best friend or family member whom we want to love despite imperfections.
A personified God, as seen through Tevye’s eyes and in Jewish humor, offers us a human-divine relationship in which we can manage our expectations of God’s power. Although we may not like that God is as imperfect as we are, at least we can laugh about it.
Today, on National Tell a Joke Day, I offer you five of my favorite jokes. They express our deepest desires for a God who can deliver what we ask, but who often comes up short or expects us to do the work instead.
Joke #1: A Jewish grandmother loses her grandson at the beach when a tidal wave sweeps him away into the depths of the ocean.
The grandmother immediately bows to her knees in the sand and prays to God for the return of her grandson. “Please God, I have always been a good person, a good Jew, and a loving grandmother; please return my grandson to me.”
Just as she finishes her prayer, a huge wave crashes back on the beach, returning the young boy to his grandmother's side.
The grandmother begins to cry and hug her grandson, overcome with joy and gratitude.
She looks once more at her grandson, then looks back at the sky and yells, “He had a hat!!!”
Joke #2: Every week, Moishe would pray to win the lottery. “Please God,” he would say, “let me win the lottery. I need to win the lottery.”
After several years of this, God finally replied and God’s booming voice rattled Moishe more than a little bit. “Moishe,” God said, “meet me half way. Buy a ticket.”
Joke #3: A poor man walking in the forest feels close enough to God to ask, “God, what is a million years to you?”
God replies, “My son, a million years to you is like a second to me.”
The man asks, “God, what is a million dollars to you?”
God replies, “My son, a million dollars to you is less than a penny to me. It means almost nothing to me.”
The man asks, “So God, can I have a million dollars?”
And God replies, “In a second.”
Joke #4: Two rabbis argued late into the night about the existence of God. Using strong arguments from the scriptures, they ended up indisputably disproving God’s existence.
The next morning, one rabbi was surprised to see the other walking into shul for services.
“I thought we agreed there is no God,” he said.
“Yes, but what does that have to do with it?”
Joke #5: A rabbi dies and goes up to the gates of heaven. Before he's let in, the angel in charge consults with God for a long time to determine if he deserves a place in heaven.
As the Rabbi waits, an Israeli bus driver approaches the gates of heaven. Without a second thought, the angel consulting with God lets the bus driver through.
The rabbi, points at the bus driver and yells, “Hey! How come he gets in so quickly?! He's a simple bus driver, while I'm a rabbi!”
The angel explains, “Dear rabbi, when you gave sermons during services, your whole congregation fell asleep. When this bus driver drove toward Tel Aviv, all his passengers sat on the edge of their seats praying to God!”