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Torah Attitude: Parshas Vayechi: Keep smiling


Each tribe received a blessing from Yacov to strengthen and direct them according to their nature and abilities. Better to smile at someone than to give them milk. All we need is to know that G'd is happy with us. A smile is more valuable than any other effort to accept and acknowledge others. Anyone who deprives others of the pleasantness of their cheerful face is a thief. We learn from Yacov's punishment. There is more to be thankful for and to appreciate than to complain about. Everyone appreciates and feels good about receiving a smile. The smile has the power to elevate, encourage, and please the recipient.

Yehuda's blessing

In this week's parasha, Yacov blesses his children before he passes away. The Or Hachaim explains, the meaning of what it says that (Bereishis 49:28) "he blessed each according to his appropriate blessing". Each tribe was blessed in order to strengthen and direct them to achieve their potential according to their nature and abilities. For example, the final words of the blessing to the tribe of Yehuda, the tribe destined for kingship and leadership express that they will experience prosperity fit for royalty. As it says "he (Yehuda) will launder his garments in wine and his robe in the blood of grapes. Red eyed from wine, and white toothed from milk" (Be 49:11). The simple meaning of these poetic words refers to the abundance of grapes producing wine and the abundance of cattle producing milk. However, as we constantly find in the Torah, there is a deeper meaning as well.

White toothed

The Talmud (Ketuboth 111a) has a very interesting homiletical interpretation of the last part of this passage. "The congregation of Israel says to G'd: 'Master of the Universe, wink to me with Your eyes for that exhilarates me more than wine and smile at me with Your teeth for that is sweeter to me than milk." The Talmud continues and says this is proof to what Rabbi Yochanan said, "Better is the one who shows the white of his teeth (in a smile) to his friend, than the one who gives him milk to drink." In other words, "white toothed from milk" can be interpreted as "to be white toothed with a smile is better than to give milk."

We find another similar statement in the Talmud (Bava Bathra 9b): "Someone who gives a coin to the poor will be blessed with six blessings, whereas the one who addresses him with words of comfort will be blessed with eleven blessings (even if he does not give him a donation)." Explains the Maharal, the one who provides milk to drink or a coin for the poor provides a physical donation that sustains the person for a little while. But the one who smiles at or comforts the poor with encouraging words, gives the person an everlasting feeling of self worth. This lifts the person's spirits and sustains the recipient a lot more than any donation.

G'd's face

It says (Tehillim 80:8): "G'd of legions, return us and illuminate Your face that we may be saved." Our sages explain that the Jewish nation asks G'd to illuminate His face to us. That is all we ask for. That is all we need. When G'd illuminates His face to us it expresses that G'd is happy with us and wants us. What can be more important to us than knowing that G'd is happy with us?

Need for acceptance and approval

The late Rav Wolbe, one of the greatest Musar exponents of our times, explains that just like this is all we want from G'd, in the same way there is no greater thing we can give each other. Everyone has a need to be accepted and approved of by others. People get frustrated, even devastated, when they do not get invited to a Bar Mitzvah, wedding or other event. Not so much because they want to attend the affair, as they want to be acknowledged. When we have done something, we are waiting for a sign of approval from the people around us, such as a thank you, a kind word of appreciation or encouragement, even a nod with the head. Anyone can with a smile acknowledge the other person's existence and approve of the person's actions. It is the easiest and cheapest way of accepting and approving others and it is more valuable than any other effort. When someone holds the door for the person coming behind, it is not just a matter of extending a courtesy to a fellow human being; rather, it is acknowledging the other person's existence as a worthy member of society.

Cheerful face

The Mishna (Pirkei Avos 4:20) says, "Always be the first one to greet every person." The Talmud (Berachot 17a) relates that the great Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai always made sure to be the first one to greet others. Shammai, who was known as a stern and strict person, takes this a step further and says, "Receive everyone with a cheerful face" (Pirkei Avos 1:15). Our sages elaborate on this and say, if you give the most precious gifts in the world with a stern face it is as if you did not give anything. But if you accept someone with a cheerful face it is worth more than the most precious gift you could ever give. Rav Dessler once admonished one of his pupils who was walking around with a long face. He said, "You are like a thief!" He explained that the face of a person is like a public domain for everyone to see and said, "You have no right to deprive your fellow human beings of the pleasantness of a cheerful face."

Yacov's punishment

As a matter of fact, we learn from Yacov himself how important it is to appear pleasant and cheerful in all situations. The Ramban (Bereishis 47:9) explains that when Joseph brought Yacov to Pharaoh, Pharaoh was taken aback at the sight of a man who looked exceedingly old. This prompted him to ask Yacov the unusual question about how old he was. To this Yacov answered: "I am not really as old as I appear but I have suffered a lot in life and that is why I look so old." The Midrash (quoted by Da'as Zekeinim Miba'alei Hatosafoth) relates that at this point G'd said to Yacov: "I saved you from Eisav and Laban. I brought you back Dinah and Joseph, and you complain that your days have been few and bad [and that they have not reached the days of your forefathers.] I promise you that I will deduct from your life the amount of words recorded in the Torah regarding this incident, compared to the lifespan of your father Isaac." Isaac lived for 180 years whereas Yacov only lived 147 years, a difference of 33 years, the equivalent of the words of these two verses.

Be thankful

Says Rav Chaim Shmulevits, it is difficult for us to understand why it was considered wrong of Yacov to explain himself in the way he did. However, this teaches us that under all circumstances we must accept that everything G'd does is for the good, and the blessing of being alive outweighs all difficulties and tribulations of life. But how can we understand why Yacov should be punished for the eight words of the first verse recording Pharaoh's question? Answers Rav Shmulevits that since Yacov's appearance of looking old and worn brought about Pharaoh's question, he was punished for that as well. As my father always used to teach: "In every situation in life, we have more to be thankful for and to appreciate than to complain about."

Good morning!

We all know the difference it makes how we are greeted when we meet or call someone on the telephone. It can make or break the day. A cheerful "good morning" can put us in a good mood; whereas, the opposite can spoil our good mood. Just like little infants respond to a smile by smiling back, so too every adult appreciates and feels good about receiving a smile.

Smile power

The smile has the power to elevate, encourage, and please anyone who receives it. This is one of the final messages we received from our patriarch Yacov. And it was recorded in the holy Torah to emphasize that this relates to all of us at any time. Keep smiling, and the world will smile back at you.

P.S. Can you figure this one out?

What is it?

It costs no money, yet its benefits are great.
It is liked by all, if it comes soon or late.
It enriches those who get it, without diminishing those who give it.
No one is too rich to refuse it, and no one is too poor to afford it.
You cannot buy it with money, nor can it be taken away,
It needs little effort; it is easily produced each day.
It has no value for the owner, until he gives it away.
It can come fast as lightning, yet its memory will stay.
No one turns it down, we hope to receive one tomorrow,
It brightens the home, and chases away our sorrow.
When no one has one, it is needed even more,
It's a smile on your face that will always score!!!
Adapted by my father-in law Rabbi S. Wagschal

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

Shalom. Michael Deverett

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