A Bit of Wit, A World of Wisdom

A Bit of Wit, A World of Wisdom (Volume 2)
Rabbi Yehushua Kurland
Gefen Publishing / 159 pages

Our sages teach us that a shiur should begin with a joke. Doing so will get the students into a good mood, and the message will be better received. And so it is with A Bit of Wit, A World of Wisdom (Volume 2). 

The book is a delightful compilation of mussar and self-help messages that all begin with a joke or funny story. Most of the jokes will make you chuckle, though some are so corny that one might be required to make a “borei pri ha’adama” before reading them. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)

The book focuses on about twelve different themes including: Man and God, Man and His Fellow Man, Internal Struggles, Change, Education, Prayer, and my favorite unit, Marriage, among others. Every entry is 2-3 pages and often contains an additional joke or story. Here’s an excerpt:


Sam walked into a bar in New York City, ordered three drinks in three separate glasses, and downed them all. He returned the next evening and performed the same ritual, and there he was again the night after that, as well. After two weeks of observing this unusual behavior, the bartender asked Sam, “It’s none of my business, my friend, but why do you come in here every day by yourself and order three drinks in three separate glasses?”

Sam answered, “Oh, that? Those are for my old buddies, Charley and Leo. We used to be best friends until we had a little falling-out about ten years ago. Although we’ve made up since then, we rarely see each other. Charley moved out to San Diego and Leo’s down in Florida. It’s just never been the same. But I’ll tell ya, we had some really good times together. I truly miss those good old days, so when I come in here, I order three drinks, one for me, one for Charley, and one for Leo, for old times’ sake. Call me nostalgic if you want, but it kind of reconnects me to my old chums.”

This went on for months, until one day Sam walked into the bar, ordered only two drinks, and downed them both. Somewhat alarmed, the bartender asked him hesitantly, “Hey, Sam, is everything okay? Did something happen to one of your friends?” “Oh, no,” said Sam. “Everyone’s fine. It’s just that I’ve given up drinking!”


When we have a spiritual “falling-out,” it is natural to become despondent. If we are not careful, we can easily fall into depressions that threaten to undermine our great potentials. The ultimate victory of the evil inclination is not the transgression of the sin itself as much as the resulting hopelessness and detachment. It is imperative, therefore, that we understand the importance of the soul and the inner purity that remains untainted despite indiscretion.

Through this spiritual nostalgia, by reconnecting to the good that survives within, we can catapult to a position of prominence before our Creator. King David writes in Psalms (37:10) that inside every person remains a small reserve “where there is no evil.” The sinner who reawakens this spark of purity can experience an extreme reversal. The sinner can undergo a transformation so complete that trying to find that “old buddy” will be impossible. “He will seek him out in his place and he will no longer be there,” King David writes in that verse, for the sinner has undertaken a turnabout of massive proportions. Instead, the sinner will find deep inside an even older friend, a buddy for eternity – the inner reserve of purity, waiting with welcome arms. Surely, then, even the rebellious sinner who feels distant and removed from the King can pray and sing to G-d unabashedly, for the special reserve is pure and ready to be awakened. Another verse from Psalms (146:2), “I will praise G-d while I exist,” says as much, I will praise G-d from that which still exists – from that small remnant of purity within which there is no evil whatsoever.

King Solomon, the wisest of all men, advises in Proverbs (9:8): “Do not censure the cynic for he will hate you for it; rebuke the wise man and he will love you.” Typically understood, Solomon here addresses two types of people in need of reproof: the cynic and the sage. Don’t bother reprimanding the cynic, he seems to say, for not only will it be unwelcome but will prove counterproductive as well. Instead, reprimand the sage, who will embrace any suggestions for improvement.

It has been suggested that perhaps King Solomon speaks about only one person in need of admonishment, and in this verse is contrasting two approaches toward this goal. When you rebuke your friend, don’t speak to your friend’s “cynical” side, but rather the “judicious” reserve within. Don’t indulge in name-calling and other verbal abuse, but find the sage buried inside and build from there. Most importantly, continue to hold your friend in high esteem, and acknowledge this aloud; help him or her reconnect to that “old buddy,” that untarnished source of spiritual strength, that unsullied reserve of godliness within.

The book is nicely done. It is very easy reading, with very gentle mussar (sometimes too gentle!). It’s nice to have some humor in Torah literature sometimes.

To order the book: http://www.amazon.com/Bit-Wit-World-Wisdom-Volume/dp/9652297496

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