This week’s parsha brings me back memories of the torturous but clever satirical vorts we would sometimes hear from our rabbeim. Well, torturous for some. I always laughed out loud. I guess I was born to become a Litvishe rosh yeshiva or something.
Our class once needed to be woken up, so the rebbi stopped the shiur and told the following vort:
The Mishna in Bameh Madlikin says:
אין מדליקין לא בלכש, ולא בחסן, ולא בכלך, ולא בפתילת האידן... ולא בחלב נחום
Asked the rebbi, what did Nachum do wrong? Why may his fats not be used for lighting נר שבת?
Said the rebbi, to answer this we have to ask another question. In this week’s parsha we read:
וַיְהִי בְּשַׁלַּח פַּרְעֹה אֶת הָעָם וְלֹא נָחָם
Why not Nachum? Why didn’t Nachum leave Egypt?
The answer, said the rebbi, is that Nachum was a candle maker. After the plague of darkness, four-fifths of the Jewish people had died. There was also a great amount of Egyptians dead from the plague of the firstborns. Nachum knew a business opportunity when he saw one – he could make a fortune selling candles for all the vigils and all. So when his fellow Jews left, he stayed behind. That’s why Nachum remained in Egypt. And as a punishment to Nachum for abandoning his people, we don’t use his candles for נר שבת.
As I’m writing this I recall another ingenious vort I heard from that rebbi; completely unrelated. Someone once called out and tried to shlug up something he said, using a קל וחומר argument. Said the rebbi, let me tell you a story. There was once a person who asked his rabbi a question. His rabbi gave him the answer. The person asks, “But I can make a קל וחומר to show you are wrong!” So the rabbi says to him, “Why don’t you come to my house for dinner tonight? We shouldn’t discuss this on an empty stomach.” So they walk on over to the rabbi’s house and sit down at the table. They wash and break bread, and the rebbetzin comes over to serve the first course; some boiling hot chicken soup. Glancing at his bowl, the person notices he’s been given a fork! He’s unsure what to do; he doesn’t want to embarrass the rebbetzin, but how is he going to eat soup with a fork? So he waits till she leaves the room, and then whispers quietly to the rabbi, “Rabbi, what should I do? I got a fork with my soup!” The rabbi looks at him with a bewildered expression. “What do you mean? If chicken, which you cannot eat with a spoon, you can eat with a fork; כל שכן soup, which you can eat with a spoon, you can eat with a fork!” Needless to say, the person never tried to shlug up his rabbi with a קל וחומר again. And neither did the guy asking the question to the rebbi.
I think the way it works with these jokes is that what doesn’t kill you makes you smarter.