September 29, 2023
September 29, 2023

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The Power of a Smile: Unlocking the Gates of Heaven

As we approach Rosh Hashanah—in our relentless pursuit of earning a place in Heaven—we dedicate our lives to Torah study and fulfilling mitzvos, hoping to secure our spot in “Gan Eden.” Yet, what if I told you that one of the most cherished and appreciated qualities in ensuring our admission there is as simple as a smile?

In the Gemara (Taanit 22a), we encounter a remarkable exchange between Rabbi Brokah and the prophet, Elijah, during one of his fabled visits. Rabbi Brokah inquired of Elijah about the individuals they were about to pass on the street who were guaranteed a portion in “Olam Haba,” the world to come. Elijah’s response was unexpected: He pointed out comedians who brought laughter to others.

This might strike us as counterintuitive. Shouldn’t scholars or great philanthropists be the ones destined for Heaven? Why did Elijah emphasize those who made people laugh? The Talmud may be imparting a profound lesson: Heaven’s gate is not solely unlocked by one’s scholarship or generosity. What is truly prized is the ability to spread compassion and joy, to bring smiles to the faces of others.

The Mishna in Pirkei Avos (1:15) encourages us to greet everyone with a cheerful face. The Gemara in Kesubos (111b) advises us to smile broadly, revealing the whiteness of our teeth. Avos D’ Rabbi Nosson (13) teaches that giving with a gloomy demeanor is akin to giving nothing at all, while warmly welcoming someone—even without material gifts—is considered the most valuable offering.

Consider the inspiring example of Rabbi Mordechai Weiss—a former yeshiva principal—who created a “smile zone” at the school entrance. No child was permitted to enter until they shared a smile and received a heartfelt wish for a good day.

An anecdote involving the esteemed Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan—better known as the Chofetz Chaim—beautifully illustrates the profound impact of a smile: “Once, a young man approached the Chofetz Chaim with a heavy heart, burdened by the guilt of his past mistakes. Tears welled up in his eyes as he poured out his soul, recounting his transgressions and expressing his fear of divine judgment. The Chofetz Chaim listened attentively, his gentle eyes filled with empathy. When the young man had finished speaking, the Chofetz Chaim didn’t immediately respond with words of rebuke or admonishment. Instead, he slowly lifted his hand and offered the troubled soul a warm, reassuring smile.

In that moment, the weight of guilt began to lift from the young man’s shoulders. He felt a glimmer of hope—a sense that even after his errors—there was room for forgiveness and redemption. The Chofetz Chaim’s smile communicated not only compassion, but also the profound belief that every soul has the capacity to change and improve.”

Years later, that same young man became a respected Torah scholar and a beacon of righteousness within his community. He often attributed his transformation to the Chofetz Chaim’s simple, yet powerful gesture—a smile that illuminated his path to teshuva (repentance) and personal growth.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch’s words resonate deeply: “A smile costs nothing, but gives much.” It enriches both giver and receiver, creating lasting memories. It is a universal currency that transcends riches and empowers the impoverished. A smile fosters happiness, goodwill and friendship—offering solace to the weary and uplifting the discouraged. It brings light to the darkest moments and serves as a remedy for trouble. It cannot be bought, begged, borrowed or stolen; its value lies in giving it away.

As we prepare for Rosh Hashanah, let us internalize these lessons… It is not the one who prays fervently, yet neglects their neighbor, who stands highest in Hashem’s eyes. Instead, it might be the considerate, compassionate soul who greets fellow worshipers with a warm smile and a friendly handshake. Such a person may well find themselves on the fast track to divine favor.

May we all be blessed with a K’siva V’chasima Tova, inscribed and sealed for a year filled with genuine smiles, kindness and the warmth of compassion in the book of life.

Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic, clinical psychologist and a member of the American Psychology-Law Society. He is the coordinator of Bikur Cholim/Chesed at Congregation Torah Ohr in Boca Raton, Florida. He can be reached at [email protected]

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