The loss of a celebrity, at any age, from any circumstance, affects us in different ways. The reaction to the death of Robin Williams, may his memory be a blessing, surprised me. This beloved actor and comic touched so many of us in so many personal ways that I have seen remarks, with favorite Robin Williams quotes and clippings, all over Facebook, my private emails, even on the Aish website (Aish is a Jewish Orthodox organization and yeshiva, far to the right in religious practice). The Aish contribution was written by Rabbi Stuart Weiss, a Modern Orthodox Rabbi living in Israel whom I admire, whose message inspires me each week (go to http://www.aish.com/ci/a/Robin-Williams-and-Us.html?s=show). The contributions that Robin Williams has made to us reach deeply into our very core.
The idea that such a beloved person, a person who made us laugh, was so severely depressed that he committed suicide is difficult to accept. Didn’t he know how much the world appreciated him? Didn’t he know how this would hurt his wife and children? Why couldn’t he be saved?
In traditional Judaism, suicide is considered a grave sin. Many of us remember a time when a suicide would embarrass a family so much that there was a reluctance to admit publicly that a loved one died of suicide; this was certainly my parents’ reaction when my oldest brother took his own life in 1970.
But we now recognize that suicide is a result of serious mental illness. Suicide prevention takes the intervention of trained medical experts. And it takes each of us to recognize when someone is clinically depressed and needs professional help. To better educate yourself about depression and suicide, go to http://www.helpguide.org/mental/suicide_prevention.htm. If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). And do remember that I am here to help you and your loved ones.
Robin Williams, rest in peace. As Rabbi Weiss teaches, “One who makes others smile and laugh is secured a place in the World to Come (the Talmud).”
May you have a week of blessings and a Shabbat of peace,
Rabbi Debbie Israel