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Laughter has the power to unify opposites

Redeeming Laughter - Part 1

Redeeming Laughter - Part 1

Intermediate Intermediate
Redeeming Laughter - Part 1
Laughter has the power to unify opposites

Let us look closely at the transition from ordeal to deliverance. A most illuminating way to approach this subject is to understand the deeper meaning of laughter, for the mystical concept is that the response to deliverance from imminent disaster is the root of laughter. The only path to the spiritual is through the medium of the physical…

To understand this we shall have to note a basic premise: the physical world is constructed on a root dimension of deeper forces. Everything in the world reflects its root in a higher level exactly. That is how we can have access to understanding the spiritual world: although we have no sense organs to comprehend it directly, we can grasp the nature of the physical world and then translate its structure, in every detail, to an understanding of the spiritual world. In fact, the only path to the spiritual is through the medium of the physical. Perhaps the most potent illustration of this idea lies in understanding the manner in which we relate to another human being. When someone does or says something significant or meaningful and you respond inwardly, emotionally, what you are conscious of is the appreciation of that person's attitude or feeling towards you and its effect on your relationship. What you are not conscious of is that person's lips moving or muscles twitching, which in fact is exactly what is happening in the physical world. In other words, we automatically translate the vehicle of the physical into its deeper meaning. One can access another person's mind or personality only by means of the physical vehicle of their body, and yet that access is achieved effortlessly and naturally.

The skill of spiritual living, of course, is to use that subtle and powerful "switching mechanism" always, in relation to everything in the physical world, and to inwardly perceive the deeper level and meaning behind all the world's objects and phenomena.

So if we wish to grasp a spiritual idea we must analyze its expression in the physical.

What is the nature of laughter in the physical world? What exactly provokes the universal human response of laughter? What causes us to laugh is a sharp and improbable juxtaposition of opposites…

An examination of human laughter will show that what causes us to laugh is a sharp and improbable juxtaposition of opposites. When a process moves in one direction and then suddenly and unexpectedly changes to its opposite, laughter is generated. In fact, the more extreme the contrast, the more extreme the tension before the reversal; and the more sudden the snap into reversal, the more intense the laughter. Strangely, this is true even when the events or processes observed are not intrinsically funny at all: laughter at the plight of the victim of a practical joke is highly incongruous and yet may be almost unavoidable - why is this so? The spectacle of a pompous, conceited individual strutting along in overbearing self-confidence laid low by a mere banana peel is not at all humorous, and yet even those rushing to help may not be able to hide a smile; what is the meaning of this strange phenomenon?

The idea here is as follows. Real, spiritual laughter is the cosmic response to a real change. We find this expressed in the verses: "Then our mouths shall be filled with laughter" (Psalms 126:2); "then" but not now. In fact according to halacha we may not laugh with complete abandon in this phase of the world's history while the pain of exile is still with us; but during and after the transition to redemption full laughter will be appropriate. And amazingly a "woman of valor" (Proverbs 31:10) will "laugh at the last day" (Ibid. 31:24) - imagine laughing at the day of death! But of course the transition into eternal life, when that reality is revealed, is the happiest event imaginable! A woman who is "of valor", i.e., correctly prepared in spiritual strength, will certainly feel that joy; and particularly a woman, since she has just that greatness of spirit which enables her to be a vehicle of birth, she can most deeply understand the happiness of potential life becoming actual. When crisis leaves no option but total despair and at that point deliverance occurs, laughter is the result…

Let us look deeper. In the spiritual path, what is the change which generates the exhilaration of spiritual laughter? It is the change from ordeal to redemption, and more specifically, from intense crisis to seemingly impossible redemption. When crisis leaves no option but total despair and at that point deliverance occurs, laughter is the result…

The Rambam explains that the birth of a child is a microcosm of this idea. The mystery and miracle of human birth powerfully reveal the forces of intense reversal which takes place at the interface between two worlds. The experience of the mother is perhaps the clearest example of the pathway of ordeal to redemption. Pregnancy proceeds gradually and predictable. Then, like most ordeals and crises, labor occurs abruptly and is incomparable in intensity relative to the preceding months. Labor certainly does not seem to be a life-giving experience - if one who had no knowledge of human physiology and birth witnessed labor for the first time he would be convinced that a disaster was taking place. At the height of the labor, when superficially all looks worst, a child is born. And only then does it become apparent that the entire process was birth, not the opposite.

But more deeply, the experience of the child teaches our principle. The unborn child lives in a medium in which it is perfectly adapted - submerged in liquid, with a blood circulation and other details of its physiology specific to its intra-uterine environment. Its lungs are collapsed and non-functional, blood bypasses the lungs, the heart has openings between its chambers unlike an adult heart; in short, many of its features are radically different from those of a person already born. But more than this, those features are life-sustaining in that environment and would be lethal in this one, and the features which are needed to sustain life here would be lethal there: truly a situation of opposites. She laughs at the last day…

Then birth begins: a child perfectly adapted to one set of conditions is thrust into another set where death must be only minutes away - this child has only the opposite of what it needs to survive! And miraculously, within a few critical minutes, everything reverses! "What is closed opens, and what is open closes", states the Gemara. Almost instantaneously the lungs open and breathe, blood is simultaneously routed to the lungs, blood pouring out of the umbilical vessels is mysteriously arrested as those vessels powerfully constrict, and suddenly a child is alive in this world and perfectly adapted to it!

Birth is the symbol of all transitions, and it teaches us to be sensitive in understanding them. The Rambam quotes this phenomenon to illustrate a firm root for our faith that there is a transition from this world to the next: although on this side of the great divide we perceive only a change from life to death, we can begin to understand more deeply that fundamental of faith, that death leads, in fact, to life - on the far side of that divide, the reversals miraculously begin. I.e., "She laughs at the last day"…

To continue on to the next article on the Power of Laughter, click here

[From "Living Inspired" (Targum Press)]

Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz has lectured internationally in the fields of Jewish philosophy and medical ethics. He is the author of several successful books.
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kathy colton April 1, 2015

Laughter is great belly fat burner! Sometimes I laugh so hard and much I have belly aches!and it hurts for days! Laugh out loud! Reply

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