This week marks the fourth yahrtzeit of Rav Menachem Froman, an idiosyncratic (understatement), loving, and spiritually attuned man. While I cannot truly do justice to his memory with my words, a wise friend inspired me to share my thoughts on Rav Menachem, along with a short teaching of his.
The aforementioned wise friend aptly and artfully described Rav Menachem as “one of the truly original spirits and teachers of our, or any, time…free enough to be both the rabbi of Tekoa (a settlement) and a friend and interlocutor with Yasir Arafat and leaders of Hamas.” He is remembered and admired for “his vision of a Zionism that is able to separate Israel-as-a-nation-state and the Land of Israel, and that [he] [saw] the face of God in all other human beings.”
I’ve only become familiar with Froman’s teachings since after his passing from this world (2013), and I have barely scratched the surface. His writing is deceptively simple, but contains esoteric insights, and an outlook that reached beyond the limited four cubits and three dimensions of conventions or expectations. Rav Menachem had a way of seamlessly fusing disparate elements, compassionately embracing people of all tribes. His spiritual and practical work, and his refreshing teachings, continue to make a significant impact in many spheres. He embodied the synthesis of contradictions. Rav Froman was steadfast and obsessive in his religious observance, notoriously quirky, and radiantly joyful.
I’ve taken the liberty of translating (with some friendly guidance) a teaching from the posthumous collection of Rav Menachem’s teachings, חסידים צוחקים מזה, Righteous Followers Laugh From This. I think it speaks to Rav Menachem’s eccentric and provocative approach to spiritual and interpersonal life. And then I want to meditate on it a little bit. Are you down? Chill. L’chaim.
יש בחיים דברים גדולים וחשובים שהדרך היחידה להחזיק בהם היא הצחוק. בזה שאתה צוחק עליהם אתה נותן להם את הכבוד שלהם.
There are some things in life that are so big and important that the only way to hold them is laughter. By the fact that you are laughing at them you are giving them their honor.
יש דברים שאם תאחז בהם–עצמם, תגיד אותם כפי שהם – תקטין אותם, הם יהפכו להיות בנאליים.
There are some things that if you grasp them-themselves, if you say them as they are – you make them small, they become banal.
הצחוק שפותח את הלימוד הוא כמו ידית, שרק באמצעותיה אפשר להרים סיר רותח.
The laughter that opens the learning is like a handle, by means of which you can pick up a boiling pot.
ילדים צוחקים על ההורים שלהם, ודווקא בזה הם נותנים להם כבוד. ככה אני עשיתי להורים שלי, וככה הילדים שלי עושים לי .היום
Children laugh at their parents, and precisely through this they give them honor. This is what I did to my parents, and this is what my children do to me today…
.הדרך העיקרית שלי לאהוב את אשתי היא לצחוק עלי
The main way for me to love my wife is to laugh at her.
הרי כולנו הולכים למות. מה אפשר לעשות מול העובדה כבדת משקל ובלתי נתפסת שכזאת? לצחוק. הצחוק הוא הדרך לאחוז במוות.
After all, we are all going to die. What can we do in the face of such a heavy and ungraspable concept? Laugh. Laughter is the way to grasp hold of death.
Perhaps there is in laughter a strain of surrender. And consequently, liberation. At least the process of becoming just a little freer from some of our barriers.
To what extent is the aim to “grasp hold of” these lofty concepts or weighty truths? How is the only way to “hold onto” these elusive things found in laughter, in letting go? The teaching repeats the ideas of “holding onto” something, “getting” it, but also of giving honor to those notions, and to the most intimate and charged of our relationships. Without laughter, our explanations, our philosophizing or theorizing or meditating or fetishizing become reductive in our pursuit of a total “grasp” of that which is beyond us.
Laughter is our way in, an access point to the sites of mystery with which we seek to engage. First we must laugh; laughter can be haughty or humble, as can most of us.
Grasping, engaging, does not happen from afar. Laughter – the lid on the pot, or the doorknob – lets us make contact with the things too great for us to conceptualize. We might never fully “get” them; we can touch them. We can laugh at the endearing mysteries around us, stare at them lovingly, transfixed and giggling. We cannot seize the inevitable; still, we can touch it, hold it in some way. The only way is to laugh. With full hearts and hands clapping.
May Rav Menachem’s, and our, laughter ever ascend.