I just learned about an interesting Jewish organization that trains kids and adults, twelve years and older, to be friendly clowns who visit people in hospitals, senior care, and assisted living facilities all over the country. They bring laughter and cheer to the sick and lonely. They are called Mitzvah Clowns.
It’s easy to think that laughter and silliness is a frivolous waste of time. We usually don’t think of it as an essential ministry to others. But so many these days are struggling with tragedy in one form or another. It’s easy for people going through difficult times to focus on the problems and pain and forget how to laugh. Sometimes the best gift we can give is a reason to laugh.
Here is a wonderful story I found in Joseph Telushkin’s book, The Book of Jewish Values – A Day-By-Day Guide to Ethical Living.” It is about the importance of helping people laugh:
Help Someone Laugh
The Talmud tells of a certain Rabbi Beroka, who found himself in the marketplace of the Persian city of Be Lefet. Suddenly the prophet Elijah appeared to him. The rabbi asked him, “Is there anyone in this marketplace who deserves a place in the World-to-Come?” Elijah answered, “No.”
A short time later, two men walked by and Elijah told the rabbi, “These men deserve a place in the World-to-Come.”
Rabbi Beroka went over to them and asked them their occupation. “We are comedians,” they told him,”and we cheer up those who are depressed. In addition, whenever we see two people involved in a quarrel, we work hard to make peace between them” (Ta’anit 22a).
As these comedians understood, true kindness consists in doing whatever the person with whom you are interacting most needs; thus a depressed person focused only on that which is paining him might desperately need to laugh, and thereby recall that life is not just anguish. Speaking through Elijah, God so approves of the comedians’ attitude that He holds them out as examples of the sort of people who most merit eternal reward.
Some fifteen hundred years after the incident with Rabbi Beroka, some disciples of Rabbi Israel Salanter once observed him standing and engaging in a lengthy and lighthearted conversation with an acquaintance. The disciples were amazed, as Rabbi Salanter was known to disapprove of wasting one’s time in frivolous speech. Later, when one of the disciples commented on his behavior, Rabbi Salanter answered, “This man was feeling extremely bitter and depressed, and it was a great act of kindness to cheer him and to make him forget his troubles and his worries. Could I have done this by lecturing him about fear of God or the need for moral improvement? Surely, this could only be done by cheerful speech about down-to-earth matters” (Or Yisra’el, page 112).
The Biblical book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a time to weep and a time to laugh (Ecc. 3:4). And sometimes there is a time to make others laugh.