by Rabbi Yehoshua Aron Sofer
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"His eyes are red from wine, and his teeth whitened from an abundance of milk" (Beraishis 49:12).
The Gemoroh (Kesubos 111b) teaches it's better to smile at someone warmly than to provide him with food and drink. The Scriptural source is our verse, which can be taken to mean, "better to show the white of your teeth (in a smile) than to give an abundance of milk". The obvious question is, when an indigent person approaches someone for food, how will a smile fill his empty stomach? Keeping in mind that in times of yore people went hungry in the streets, how can the Talmud advise that a smile is nicer than a substantial food donation? We see that a smile is not merely a kind thing to do, making the world a more pleasant place. A smile is an essential ingredient in the healthy continuity of the world. Just as everyone is in agreement that a child that grows up being shown love and good cheer will be emotionally sound and stable, so too, adults require smiles and warmth to function properly. It's as necessary for them as food and drink. As the saying goes, "A smile is a small curve that sets many things straight".
HaRav Shlomo Wolbe Shlita writes that just as plants require sunshine to live, converting the rays of the sun into nutrients, people too convert smiles into energy and strength, and without it they wilt and perish. To smile is to be human: animals aren't endowed with the ability to smile. Sefer Toras Avrohom relates how Rav Avrohom Grudzinsky zt'l, a famous mussar personality of pre-war Europe, spent two whole years training himself to keep a smile on his lips no matter how much stress he was under! Those that were with him subsequently in the ghetto testified that even in those terrible times his face was always aglow with a radiant, comforting smile.
Rav Wolbe distinguishes between returning a greeting, which he defines as common courtesy, to initiating a greeting, which he calls, "hazrachas shemesh" - sunshine. This is why the Mishna (Avos 4:20) directs us to initiate the greeting of every person. It isn't simply derech eretz, but life-sustaining spirit. The Gemorah (Berochos 17a ) tells how Rav Yochanan Ben Zakkai would greet every person before they had the chance to greet him. Rav Dessler zt'l reminds us that is the Sage whom we are told (Sukkah 28a) was fluent in every area of Torah - Chumash, Talmud, Jewish Law, Rabbinic decrees, Kabbala, etc. He was a veritable Torah giant, yet he never was too busy or preoccupied to greet someone affably. Seforim note that Eisav is the numerical value of Shalom, to teach us that one must say Shalom even to non-Jews.
The mishna (Avos 1:15) enjoins us, "Receive all men with a cheerful face". A person's face has been called a "reshus harabim", a public domain. Worries in our hearts should remain there, and not spill over into our faces. Our facial expression is public property, people are affected by our sour, frowning countenance and it's our obligation to ensure we don't harm them thusly. The mishna uses the words, 'Kol Adam - all men', which has been interpreted to mean 'the whole man'. If there is something displeasing about a person which deters one from smiling at him, examine his complete personality and background. There is certainly something endearing about him, and one will be able to greet him cheerfully.
Rabbi Yehoshua Aron Sofer, Kollel Beis HaTalmud Yehuda Fishman Institute, Melbourne Australia
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