דרכיה דרכי נועם וכל נתיבותיה שלום
“The ways of the Torah are ways of pleasantness, and all its pathways are peace.”
Last time we discussed the importance of displaying our manners at school as a way of demonstrating pleasantness to those around us. This time we will focus on the importance of smiling.
Four Words That Saved the World
The following story was delivered to 1,000 members of the United States Army Chaplaincy by Rabbi Yossi Jacobson,* the first rabbi to have this honor:
He was sold into slavery by his brothers and thrown into jail for crimes he didn’t commit. All of this happened when he was just a teenager. But Joseph (Yosef Hatzadik) was not an ordinary person. Most people thrown into a dungeon with no realistic hope for freedom would be overwhelmed with fear and despondency.
Shortly after Yosef’s incarceration, Pharaoh’s butler and baker sinned and were also thrown into prison and became his cell mates. In the morning, Yosef looked at the strangers and saw that they were sad. He immediately said to them, מדוע פניכם רעים היום?—“Why do you appear sad today?” (Bereishit 40:7).
These simple words, offered as a demonstration of politeness and caring by someone who, by all logic, should have been consumed by his own self-interest, set into motion an extraordinary chain of events.
By having his dream interpreted, [the lack of] which was the cause of his anguish, the butler eventually remembered Yosef to the Pharaoh, who then elevated the young man to viceroy of Egypt. In the years of famine that followed, Yosef was single-handedly responsible for converting the land into a veritable bread basket, saving the entire Middle East and the world beyond.
Rabbi Jacobson went on to tell the chaplains that Joseph was a role model for them. He encouraged them to seek an opportunity each day to offer a greeting or a word of caring to someone who appears downtrodden. They may never know how far-reaching such a gesture might be. This lesson, of course, is applicable to each of us as well.
* Rabbi Jacobson is the former rabbi of Congregation Bais Shmuel of Brooklyn, New York.
Smile and the World Smiles With You
In Yaakov’s bracha to his son Yehuda, he says, ולבן שנים מחלב—“…and his teeth, white with milk” (Bereishit 49:12). The Talmud (Ketubot 111b) explains that when someone shows his teeth by smiling to his fellow man, it is better than giving him milk to drink. As a leader of his people, Yehuda was given this bracha because it is fundamental to the way he must treat his people.
We learn in Pirkei Avot that one should greet people with a cheerful expression. Of all the manners and traits that we should cultivate, the smile tops the list. This is certainly true of the school setting.
The following anonymous portrayal offers additional, meaningful insight into the phenomenon of a smile:
A smile costs nothing, but gives much. It enriches those who receive, without making poorer those who give. It takes but a moment, but the memory of it lasts forever. None is so rich or mighty that he can get along without it, and none is so poor but that he can be made rich by it.
A smile creates happiness in the home, fosters good will in business and is the countersign of friendship. It brings rest to the weary, cheer to the discouraged, sunshine to the sad, and it is nature’s best antidote for trouble. Yet it cannot be bought, begged, borrowed or stolen, for it is something that is of no value to anyone until it is given away.
Some people are too tired to give you a smile. Give them one of yours, as none needs a smile so much as he who has no more to give.
Dr. Mark Stibich, in his book “Your Guide to Longevity,” offers several reasons for always cultivating a broad smile:
- • Smiling makes us attractive: People are attracted by those who are cheerful and happy.
- • Smiling changes our mood: When we are feeling down, we can give ourselves a lift by smiling.
- • Smiling is contagious: Smiling helps other people feel more cheerful.
- • Smiling relieves stress: When we are feeling down, the symptoms of stress that line our faces can make us look unhappy and overwhelmed. Smiling removes these characteristics.
- • Smiling boosts your immune system: It drops your blood pressure and can help our body ward off disease.
- • Smiling boosts your immune system: You can actually measure the drop in your blood pressure after smiling.
- • Smiling releases endorphins, natural pain killers and serotonin: These make our bodies and minds feel good.
- • Smiling lifts the face and makes you look younger: We use far fewer muscles to smile than to frown.
- • Smiling makes you seem successful: Smiling conveys a sense of confidence to those with whom we interact.
- • Smiling helps you stay positive: The more we smile, the more we tend to feel that things are going well for us.
There are many quotations that reflect the different attributes of a smile. The following are a representative sampling:*
- • “The world always looks better from behind a smile.”
- • “A smile is the light in the window of your face that tells people you’re at home.”
- • “If you smile at someone, they might smile back.”
- • “Everyone smiles in the same language.”
- • “The shortest distance between two people is a smile.”
- • “Wear a smile. One size fits all.”
- • “It takes 17 muscles to smile and 43 to frown.”
- • “A smile is a powerful weapon; you can even break ice with it.”
- • “Most smiles are started by another smile.”
- • “A smile is something you can’t give away; it always comes back to you.”
* Authors unknown
We conclude Step #6 with the following quote from Talmud Yoma:
We learn in a Baraita, “You shall love Hashem your God” [which can be interpreted as] the name of Heaven becomes beloved through you…as one’s dealings with others should be conducted in a pleasant manner. What do people say about such a person? “Fortunate is his father who taught him Torah, fortunate is his teacher who taught him Torah.”
Rabbeinu Chananel adds the words, “Fortunate are his parents.”
In today’s language, when we encounter a particularly pleasant person, we are likely to say, “What a mentsch!”
Stanley Fischman is currently the supervisor of general studies instruction at the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth, NJ. He is the author of “Seven Steps to Mentschhood—How to Help Your Child Become a Mentsch.”