In tractate Taanit 22a, Rabbi Beroka Chaza-ah is sitting in the marketplace when he is visited by the prophet Elijah, with whom, apparently, he was in frequent communication. The rabbi inquired of the prophet- “Is there any person here who has a share in the world to come?” Just at that moment, two men passed by and Elijah remarked, “These two have a share in the world to come.” Rabbi Beroka then approached and asked them, “What do you do?” They replied, “We are jesters, when we see men depressed we cheer them up; furthermore when we see two people quarreling we strive hard to make peace between them.”
Clowns guaranteed a share in the world to come? We understand the value of peace. Too often we forget the value of laughter. Victor Borge said that “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” With so much seriousness in our lives and in the world, the Talmud reminds us of the holiness of laughter. Laughter truly is the best medicine! It relieves stress, relaxes the muscles, and laughter releases endorphins into our bodies. Humor lightens our burdens and connects us with others.
Last week I coordinated suicide prevention training for the Soldiers I supervise in my unit, the 807th Medical Command. At the end of the most intense of our sessions, I asked each person what was the one thing that they wanted to remember from that block of instruction. My take-away was that no one is immune. In story after story the ending was- he was the one person we never suspected would take his own life. Despite our best efforts, we remain a mystery to each other.
I thought about that when I heard of the death of Robin Williams. We look at others with a great sense of envy and imagine that their money, their fame, counters any problem they could possibly have. We tell ourselves that if we had what they had, we would be completely happy- always and forever. Yet we learn that we can never know the pain that lies just below the surface in the life of another person.
Robin Williams was the holiest of jesters. In his memory, we smile. Robin Williams suffered in his soul. In his memory, we renew our commitment to the deepest compassion.