In a Torah discussion group one Shabbat afternoon, Sam “Simcha” Krause whispered a joke to the guy sitting next to him about the ideas the rabbi was expounding. It was not meant as a sign of distraction, but Krause’s levity earned him a sharp rebuke.
His response was true to form. “I went home and wrote 20 pages of jokes about Kabala,” he told NJ Jewish News. “And then I put them aside and forgot about them.”
A few years later, those 20 pages won the interest of a publisher, and formed the starting point for his newly-released book, “Hey Waiter… There’s God in My Soup!” — Learning Kabbalah Through Humor.
Krause talked about his book and Jewish mysticism at the Ethical Culture Society in Maplewood.
Sharing the platform with the father of six children from Passaic was his co-parent, co-author, and wife of 28 years, Terry. The book was his idea and the jokes come from him, but the two of them study together. “She knows her stuff and she’s brilliant,” he said, and added, “I don’t write well, and she’s a great editor.”
Krause believes he is the first person to take a comedic approach to Kabala. “No one has ever done it before,” he said. A stand-up comedian from “way back,” he sees no reason to keep it separate from the spiritual teachings he reveres.
The eldest child of Holocaust survivors, Krause grew up in the Bronx. He described himself as a mischief maker and class clown, but said his mother always kept him always mindful of life’s dangers. He went into sales, tried his hand as a professional comedian, and pursued a wide-ranging search for answers to his spiritual questions. In 1988, he came upon two Lubavitch Hassidic teachers giving a class in Kabala, and realized his own tradition offered all that he sought.
Krause is very serious about being funny and he points out that it isn’t just a part of Jewish identity — “How many comedians can you think of who aren’t Jewish?” he asked — but also something the rabbis of old accepted as part of religious education. He offered a quote from the Talmud to make his point, that laughter opens the heart, and said that rabbis used to start their lessons with a joke.
“Humor might be regarded as something base, but if God created everything, he created humor too,” he said. “And it can be deep and mystical.”
And if it helps open more minds to Kabala, Krause welcomes that. In the past, it was regarded as a dangerous subject and not to be tackled until a person was mature, around 40. “But 300 years ago, the Baal Shem Tov said it was okay for everyone to study it, that the world was dark and in need of the enlightening that Kabala offers.”
These days, Krause said, while there is much darkness, there is also a sophistication that can enable people to appreciate its teaching. Not that everyone does, he said. He has no patience for the celebrities like Madonna who have made a big noise about studying Kabala without understanding the importance of doing so while living a morally disciplined life.
Krause underwent a heart transplant in 2004. It inspired his first book, Visits to My Hospital Bed, and reaffirmed his spiritual commitment. It also inspired him to continue studying Kabala, and to add his own laughter-filled voice to the commentaries that have marked its 3,300-year history.
For more information about Krause and his book, visit www.hey-waiter.com.