Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Gift Of Laughter

from the pages of Kadima, the newsletter of Congregation Adas Emuno:

From the desk of …                    
 Rabbi Barry Schwartz

The Gift Of Laughter

Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.
—Victor Borge

I write this column the same week as the passing of the incomparable comedic actor Robin Williams. While we are so saddened by the circumstances of his death, we can only say “thank you” for the life of the man who made us laugh so much. Back in 1992, Williams was the hysterical voice of the genie in Aladdin. My kids were young then, and they must have watched that movie a hundred times, laughing every time. He was that good. In the words of the Italian writer Rafael Sabatini, “He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.”

Why is it that we laugh? The English social critic William Hazlitt wrote that, “Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are, and what they ought to be.”

Mark Twain opined that, “The human race has only one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.”

Our human propensity to laugh uniquely empowers us to face life’s adversities. When we laugh we know that not all hope is lost and that joy still exists. When we laugh we know that we are not taking ourselves so seriously. When we laugh we are creating the space for bonding with others.

One of my colleagues, Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin, wrote that Williams' incredible gift, like that of all the most gifted artists, arose not just from his prodigious talent but from the fact that he was a mensch “and a mensch only becomes a mensch because he/she struggles.” We admire what Williams accomplished all the more knowing what he battled. Would that we be inspired by his example… bringing joy to others even when our challenges are great. As we approach this Jewish New Year, let’s ask ourselves: Did I smile enough during the past year? Did I laugh enough? Did I do enough to bring smiles and the great gift of laughter to others?

When Robin Williams died I dimly recalled a poem I had quoted in a sermon by the poet Danny Siegel. I dug out the sermon (from twenty years ago) and share it with you now, not only in William’s memory, but in wishing you a new year of much laughter:

And the Lord created man
And man begot laughter
And laughter begot joy
And joy begot a multitude of children
Not the least of whom is love.

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