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Friday, January 22, 2021 - 9 Shevat 5781
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The Best Medicine

Effective teachers have long known the power of humor in the classroom. A well-placed joke can help put students at ease, stimulate their minds and bring the content to life. A recent study confirms that laughter truly is the best medicine, and can enhance learning at any age.

Researchers in the Loma Linda University in California studied two groups of elderly people – one with diabetes and one that was basically healthy. Both groups were shown a 20-minute humorous video and then given a memory test that measured their visual recognition, learning ability and verbal recall. Their results were compared to a third group of elderly people, who did not watch the video.

The results showed that both groups that watched the video scored significantly higher on the test of memory – indicating that watching the video helped them to reduce stress, which led to improved learning. The greatest improvement was seen in the group with diabetes. It is known that laughter causes the release of endorphins and dopamine in the brain, which stimulate the reward and pleasure centers and reduce the release of cortisol, the stress hormone.

The power of humor to enhance learning has been known since ancient times. The Talmudic sage Ravah used to tell a humorous tale to his students before beginning his lectures, in order to put his students at ease and expanding their minds. The Tanya uses the example of Rava to illustrate that every earthly pleasure can be used for a sacred purpose. If one eats prime meat and drinks fine wine for the purpose of relaxing the mind to study Torah, or to celebrate Shabbat or a holiday, then this pleasure becomes sanctified and elevated.

There is a school of thought that hold spiritual and physical pleasures to be antithetical; we must suppress one to enjoy the other. According to this belief system, the way to become closer to G-d is by giving up worldly pleasures, to fast and undergo various types of penance. However, Chassidic philosophy teaches the opposite. G-d created the world for us to use and enjoy. He asks only that we be mindful of Him while we enjoy the world’s bounty, and use every worldly pleasure to sanctify His name.

The ultimate expression of this will be in the times of Moshiach, when, as Maimonides describes, “all delicacies will be as freely available as dust.” G-d will grant us the peace of mind we need to study Torah and serve G-d without any distractions. The joy we will experience then will exceed anything we have ever known, as the verse in Psalms states, “Then our mouths will be filled with laughter and our tongues with joy.”


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