Page 104 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 23

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ridiculous situation in which all humans are entrapped, involving
other creatures as well, and indeed the Creator Himself. Sholom
Aleichem’s marvellous hero, Tevyeh the Dairyman, is an old-
fashioned pious, God-fearing man, yet he talks to God with the
same informality as he does to his horse. He chides them both
alike, for above all else, including the Divine Presence, is justice
and fairness.
Laughter Through Tears
This determines the essential character of Sholom Aleichem’s
humor. The source of the comedy lies not within the nature of
man, but in his way of life. Sholom Aleichem laughs not at his
heroes, but with them. It is not a vain, pointless humor, the
guffaw, the snicker, but the wholesome humor that is a spiritual
catharsis; it elevates the individual, raises him above the dregs of
his existence and lends him hope and courage. The beggar can
hold his head high for at heart he is a prince; his rags are inci-
dental to the being he may someday, somehow shed and appear
in his true glory. The early Yiddish editions of Sholom Aleichem
carried the motto, “Laughing is good for your health, doctors
prescribe laughing.”
This explains the specific of Sholom Aleichem’s humor, which
has often been characterized as laughter through tears. His stories,
dealing with the realities of human existence, are sad and tragic,
but through the magic of his pen they become ludicrous. Some
years back a daughter of Sholom Aleichem and the writer were
visiting in Argentina. At one excellent Jewish school bearing the
name of the great humorist, we discussed Sholom Aleichem with
the youngsters of the fourth grade. I asked a boy of ten if the
stories of Sholom Aleichem which he had read were sad or funny,
and he said they were sad. Then I asked him if he cried or
laughed as he was reading them, and the answer was he laughed.
I asked how could he laugh at a sad story and he replied in
Yiddish, the stories were
umetik un lakhedik,
sad and funny at
once. More than 10,000 miles away, a people equally distant in
race, history and culture, the Chinese, noted the same essence of
Sholom Aleichem. They entitled one collection of his stories:
One
Eye Laughs the Other Eye Cries.
It is the laughter rising from
the vale of tears that has now endeared Sholom Aleichem to the
peoples of the world.