God's Punch Lines - Poem by gershon hepner
If God is a comedian as maintained
by those who think his punch lines rather sick,
then maybe there is something to be gained
by laughing when he does his Godly shtick.
Clap hands, and shout to God in loud applause,
as once the chief of Korahites advised,
Psalm 47, for perhaps His laws,
from Hammurabi partly plagiarized,
are like the jokes that sober judges make
when by opposing parties they are bored;
thanks to laughter judges stay awake
but give no lighter sentence as reward.
At people who don’t laugh God gets upset,
and sometimes, in His anger, will destroy them:
treat all His punch lines as a bayonet,
and try to giggle though you don’t enjoy them.
Charles McGrath writes about a journey he took to Monsey, whose new book “Foreskin’s Lament” will be published later this week, with Shalom Auslander on Rosh Hashanah (“Man and God (and God’s Sick Punch Lines, ” NYT, October 1,2007) :
Shalom Auslander ends “Foreskin’s Lament, ” his memoir of growing up in, and eventually breaking away from, the Orthodox Jewish community here, not with an acknowledgments page but with a list of people God might consider punishing instead of the author’s family. Mr. Auslander is no longer observant, but he is still a believer, and he believes in a wrathful, vengeful God who takes things personally and is not at all pleased when someone leaves the fold and writes an angry and very funny book about it. “The people who raised me will say I am not religious, ” he writes. “They are mistaken.” He adds: “I am painfully, cripplingly, incurably, miserably religious, and I have watched lately, dumbfounded and distraught, as around the world, more and more people seem to be finding Gods, each more hateful and bloody than the next, as I’m doing my best to lose Him. I’m failing miserably.” On the second day of the Rosh Hashana holiday last month, Mr. Auslander visited Monsey, a village in Rockland County, for the first time in years. Driving down the New York State Thruway from his new home near Woodstock, he worried that God might take this occasion to snare him in a fatal car wreck. He had even rented a sport utility vehicle, rather than risk being caught in the family wheels on a day when no observant Jew would even think of driving. “It was in the back of my mind the whole time, ” he said. “That would be a great punch line — for me to die in Monsey just as the book is coming out. There is no sicker comic than God.” Most people were on foot that day in Monsey, walking to and from the village’s many synagogues. There were mothers in long dresses and snoods pushing infants in strollers, with boys in suits and yarmulkes skipping alongside; men in black hats and prayer shawls, and some wearing fur hats, breeches and white silk stockings. “It’s not just whether you’re Jewish or not — there’s a whole checklist, ” Mr. Auslander said, trying to explain the differences among the various groups. “It’s like gang symbols. Your clothing, your hat, how you wear your payess, ” or sidelocks. “This is Crips territory here, ” he went on, “and just being in a car automatically makes you a Blood.” He added: “I try sometimes to see myself through their eyes — as someone who has made a huge mistake. On the other hand, what if the big joke is that God has nothing to do with any of this, and doesn’t care about it at all? ”
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