You were talking before about leitzanus, about not making wisecracks. Is it wrong to say a joke?
The answer is if there’s a special purpose for it, a chessed, then it’s not wrong. If there’s no chessed involved then it’s wrong.
Let’s say if somebody is downcast and by saying a joke you can cheer them up, so it’s like taking liquorice and mixing it with some sugar and putting it in a bottle and putting a label on it and making it look like some important medicine, and the person who takes it feels good. You’re deceiving him into making him feel good. So the joke, although in itself it’s nothing at all, it’s a leitzanus, but if it makes a person’s spirits rise it’s a mitzvah.
They tell the story of Rav Yisrael Salanter who was once seen in the street talking at length to a young woman. At length, be’arichus, to a young woman. For a very long time! His talmidim didn’t know what to do, how to explain this. It says אל תרבה שיחה עם האשה – you shouldn’t talk much with a woman. She was a married woman, a young woman, and he was standing and talking to her. ֿ
Later they discovered she had just lost a child. A child had died and she was going down to the river now. And Rav Yisrael immediately understood what was taking place. He wanted to head off a suicide. So he stopped her and he was explaining to her she’s still young and she’ll have a lot of children yet. She’ll have nachas from all of them. And he was cheering her up and he saved her life. She turned around and went back home. It was pikuach nefesh.
So, many times you come home, let’s say, and your wife is angry. The children were frazzling her nerves. It’s necessary to cheer her up so you say some kind of bedichasa.
Not only that. If you’re a rosh yeshivah and your talmidim are sitting with great fear of you; as you walk in they get up and their hands are trembling from the rosh yeshivah. And now you have to say divrei Torah but their minds are not open. Their minds are closed. So רבה הוי פתח במילתא דבדיחותא – Raba used to open up his lecture with a milsa debedichasa, with a jest. It was a fine jest – I’m sure that for us it would be a piece of Torah but for them it was a milsa debedichasa.
Now, once you open up their minds, now they’re at ease, they’re relaxed, now they’re ready to hear his Torah. Then he, Raba used to sit down, he himself sat down with yiras Hashem to say his shiur. But their minds were already relaxed. He gained new yiras Hashem to begin the shiur. So it depends on the circumstances.
But suppose nobody needs your milsa debedichasa. Let’s say someone else is cracking jokes himself and you want to show you can also crack jokes? That’s a 100% waste of effort.
TAPE # 428 (September 1982)