She Laughed

Beth Tieman Feldstein11.19.20
I gave the following D’var Torah on 11/16/20 at the Women-Only Weekend at Ramah Darom and dedicated it to the memory of Deena Pargman, whose smile and laughter spread joy to so many of us here. We remember the many years we spent with Deena at Ramah Darom’s Jewish Women’s Getaway, and we are thinking of her, and the gracious gifts she offered us of learning, smiling and laughing.

Here’s my reality and a confession I have to make: I am addicted to TikTok!

TikTok is the social media app that used to be for middle school girls to post their dances, but now, during the pandemic, it includes a much broader audience: moms over 40, healthcare workers, political activists, and even senior citizens (yes, even my 81 year old father-in-law is now addicted to TikTok!)

This app (which I do not recommend getting because you will become addicted like me) features short video clips on every topic imaginable. But the videos I like most are those humorous clips where I can laugh at myself and relate to the funny moments of being a wife and mother, raising teenagers, going through the highs and lows of quarantine, and of course, watching cute puppies!

I choose to watch the funny, relatable videos and then the TikTok algorithm sends me more funny ones. It becomes incredibly addictive, so I’ve been asking myself—WHY am I so enthralled with this app (when I don’t really go on other forms of social media?). And I realized for me, the main reason I keep watching is LAUGHTER!

Those brief moments of a chuckle, a full laugh, or even just a harumph helps me cope with my day.

Take a moment and think about yourself. What makes YOU laugh?
Maybe it’s something on Netflix, comedy shows or books, and laughing with friends and family. For me, these moments of laughter can be a coping mechanism, an emotional release and an escape from reality.

So how in the world do Tik Tok and the Torah portion relate?
The Torah portion VaYera starts with Sarah finding out that she is pregnant at age 90 (Abraham is 100!) And what was her reaction?

Sarah laughed!

What do we think about her reaction? Laughter can reflect many emotions: happiness mixed with disbelief, shock and joy. Laughter may show some anxiousness, like nervous laughter. Some have said Sarah’s laughter reflected her doubt and lack of faith in G-d at first (her laughter could have been a “yeah right” response.)

I especially love this verse from Genesis 18:12, which says: “And Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “Now that I am withered, am I to have enjoyment—with my husband so old?”

And later Sarah laughed again, and names her son Issac (in Hebrew-Yitzhak) from the root צָחַק (meaning “laugh”). How interesting that one of our prominent patriarchs in Judaism is named for laughter!

I think we can all appreciate that during these crazy times that we are living in, laughter can be incredibly important. Laughter can be a way to release stress, balancing our needs and coping with our duality of feelings.

As you may know, laughter has many health benefits:
Laughter strengthens your immune system, boosts mood, diminishes pain and protects you from the damaging effects of stress.
Laughter stops distressing emotions.
Laughter helps you relax and recharge.
Laughter shifts perspective and helps you avoid feeling overwhelmed.
Laughter draws you closer to others.

So I encourage you to find ways to laugh (and allow yourself moments to laugh) even during these distressing times. Maybe you can share ideas with each other about what makes you laugh.

And for this Shabbat in particular- we have this unique moment to leave behind the stress of “real life” and enjoy the present moment. So I want to offer you some blessings for Shabbat:
May you embrace the beauty of this incredible setting we are in.
May you enjoy the peacefulness of having an escape from reality.
And most importantly, may you have and hold on to every moment of happiness and laughter!

About the Author

Beth Tieman Feldstein

Beth Tieman Feldstein, Ph.D. is a former professor of pediatric physical therapy. She currently spends her time raising three teenagers, serving on the board of Congregation Or Hadash, coordinating the mikvah guide training program at Metro Atlanta Community Mikvah (MACoM), laughing while watching Tik Tok videos and happily attending the Jewish Women’s Getaway every year at Ramah Darom (where she occasionally hits a bullseye)!