The 4 week High Holiday is about to conclude... from Rosh Hashana, through Yom Kippur, Succot, Hoshanah Rabba, Shmini Azeret, and Now Simchat Torah.
Even Columbus Day, that we celebrate this Monday, is attached to this week, and yes, we as American Jews should be grateful that Columbus discovered America, and we have religious freedom in our great nation.
A lot has happened this month, many celebrations and time honored traditions kept. This has been a fun, meaningful week of the Succot holiday and spirituality as all around us. In addition to the Harvest Celebration, Succot is known as the Holiday of Joy. So let us look at what HAPPINESS is about?
My sermon for today will be about HAPPINESS so first of all let me see you all give your biggest smile. GOOD. Now let me hear you LAUGH, VERY GOOD. When we think of happiness, what pops into our minds? Any thoughts? For some its family, traditions, work, money, entertainment, love, great, thank you for sharing your ideas, that makes me HAPPY.
Let’s begin with a quote from The American Heart Association. "Laughter and JOY and Kindness are the HERBS to Gladden the Heart and Delight the Soul." This week was not only Succot, but interestingly also coincided with World Smile Day. This day was dedicated to good works and good cheer. The theme is "Do an Act of Kindness. Help one person smile. The symbol for the day is the ‘smiley face" icon which was created by Harvey Ball of Worcester Massachusetts in 1963. There was a famous song about missing the smiling face of his deceased mother, by a famous Cantor/actor of blessed memory…Eddie Cantor…… The songs title was "Mamie." Remember the heart moving lyrics as he reminisced about missing his deceased mother. He lets his feelings all out in full drama, down on one knee, with arms extended reaching out to hug someone as he sings and cries out longing to see his mother again. "Mamie, I’d walk a million miles for one of your smiles, my Mamie…" For many of you who have lost loved ones, on the day we say Yizkor, you can relate. It’s quite normal to feel happy when we evoke the memories of the deceased; it is also not uncommon to feel sad, maybe a little depressed.
As a matter of fact, the other day, on Wednesday 8th of October, was also National Depression Screening Day, but we won’t go there because that theme is anti-simcha. So let us stay focused on happy thoughts! As the saying goes, "Smile and the world smiles with you, cry and you cry alone…"
Isn’t it also interesting to remember that a frown is simply an upside down smile. In fact, the thought alone makes you smile, doesn’t it? Don’t you just love a great big belly laugh, the kind where you laugh so hard that your sides ache. We all do. In fact, there is nothing so contagious as a good laugh. Just watch how much it spreads with a group of children. They have playful spirits that are drawn to the funny and they are not afraid to let their giggles be heard.
In reality, laughter really IS important for all of us no matter our age; its good medicine. I’m sure our congregation filled with Doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals will back me up and agree with research studies that show laughing stimulates breathing and circulation, boosts the immune system, and helps reduce pain.
Our sages too are full of advice and quotes, about how laughter lifts the spirit and improves our mood. So let’s make a conscious effort to keep a smile on our face and allow ourselves to laugh freely and frequently.
Moreover in this month’s Scientific American Magazine, there was a fascinating article on page 14, entitled "SMILE! It could make you happier". Making an emotional face or suppressing one influences your feelings. The article mentions that "In 1872, Charles Darwin, the famous evolutionist, first proposed the idea that emotional responses influence our feelings. Additionally the esteemed 19th century psychologist William James; went so far as to assert that if a person does not express an emotion, he has not felt it at all". The article concludes that our faces do seem to communicate our state of mind not only to others, but to ourselves.
Let’s look at the field of art history. There are plenty of paintings of people with smiles that are analyzed and enjoyed by viewers and lovers of art. Perhaps one of the most famous smiles ever painted and studied is of the Mona Lisa, by Leonardo DaVinci, who doesn’t note her mysterious, captivating smile?
One of my favorite books is called SMILING WISDOM, pearls of Jewish/Israeli humor by Ephraim Rudensky, filled with notes and quotes, sayings and stories. In the book, he quotes Max Nordau, philosopher and Zionist leader. "Those who have laughed together and cried together are no longer strangers."A very true statement! With the commencement of Simchat Torah, we begin to read and study the Book of Genesis. Wasn’t it Sarah, our biblical matriarch who was childless, then an angel appeared to her, and told her she would have a child born in her old age, in her 90’s.. and what did she do, according to the bible teachings, she LAUGHED!!!!!! Yes, and what was the name of the son, born to Sarah and Abraham, he was called Yitzchak, his name meaning what? Yes LAUGHTER!!
Laughter is holy. It opens our hearts. It allows love and friendship to fill us.
In conclusion, there is a Yiddish proverb, "What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul." May you all be blessed with a Happy, Healthy, Prosperous, and Peaceful Year. I hope to see you I the synagogue, classes, and celebrations, and may Our Congregation be blessed with many smiling faces, Laughter, and Happy News!!