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Parashat Vayechi

Unfortunately, we can’t solve most of the problems of most of the people in our lives. Unfortunately, there is only a certain amount of charity we can give, only a certain amount of extra time and energy we have. Unfortunately, there is only a certain amount of care and heart that we can slice into so many small pieces.

R Yohanan taught us something that can change that.  It is greater to give someone a bright white smile, more than giving him a cup of milk. The source for this is from the words in the passuk in this week’s parasha.וּלְבֶן־ שִׁנַּ֖יִם מֵחָלָֽב (Bereshit 49). R Yohanan teaches not to take these words only literally, but to learn the following lesson. אל תקרי ולבן שנים אלא וליבון שיניים” (כתובות קיא, בRead in this passuk, that “whitening teeth,” smiling, is greater than giving a cup of milk.

Three questions. Why is greeting someone with a smile greater than giving specifically a cup of milk? Why did R Yohanan use milk to express his point, why not chocolate chip cookies? Why specifically milk?

Another question. Imagine two people standing at Metlife stadium at the outset of Siyum Hashas. They are competing who could be a bigger Baal Chessed, who can be more altruistic. One pays money to hand out cups of warm, Cholov Yisrael milk to 97,000 people. And the other stands at the entrance, smiling and greeting 97,000 people. Who did more Chessed? R’ Yohanan says it’s not the one who gave the milk. It’s the one who smiled! How does that make sense?

We know that the Torah compares a human being to a tree. כ֤י הָֽאָדָם֙ עֵ֣ץ הַשָּׂדֶ֔ה What is the meaning of this comparison? In what way is a human similar to a tree?

A tree will die without sunshine, without warmth. Love, care, and warmth are human emotional needs; they are oxygen to the ego. If you smile to your children, students, spouses, in-laws, employers, employees, neighbors, siblings, to the people you meet each day, you are giving them their emotional oxygen.

In ancient medicine, when someone got sick, it is usually because the person is worried, angry, or stressed. These negative emotions cause the person to become heated up, and heating the system makes it sick. The way to cool down the system was to drink milk. R’ Yohanan is teaching us that a better way to help someone angry or stressed or worried is by smiling to him with a broad, genuine smile. By being as optimistic as you can be with them, this can cure them more than the best medicine. This is greater than solving their problems for them. Because lack of emotional oxygen is the root of so many issues. R Yohanan chose specifically milk to teach us that a smile can cure what medicine can’t. (Ein Yitzhak)

A smile tells its receiver – “I respect you. I accept you. You are important.” Milk does not do that. Milk, even if it has a physical cure to it, it is only a physical cure. A smile is an emotional cure. According to a study done at Uppsala University in Sweden in 2014, it is tough for one to stay angry and worried, with a worried or angry face, while looking at a person who is smiling with a genuine smile on his face.

Everyone knows that the best Abbas and Imas, are the smiley Abbas and Immas. The best Rebbeim, teachers, and tutors are the smiley ones. The best employers, best employees, are the smiley ones. I made a big mistake a few years back Erev Rosh Hashana. I wanted to take on myself something small that would have an overall impact on my whole performance as a Jew. I decided to take upon myself to smile to everyone I meet and become an overall more smiley person. Unfortunately, it did not work. New Year’s resolutions need to be simple. Changing a middah, is not simple. It is easier to finish Shas, and not because finishing Shas is easy.

What is the secret of those who are able to smile to everyone? Are they mentally strong, or are they emotionally tough? People who can smile “whatever the weather” have a particular formula. They schedule time to worry, label their emotions, accept what they can’t change, and they take on the problems they can. They know how to cheer themselves up when the going gets rough.

Last two weeks, I did not write. I had a hard time to smile. I have a bill of 7000 shekel from the printer for printing parashah sheets, and I can’t continue without more financial aid. But then I realized I couldn’t afford to stop writing. Writing my ideas, helping people with my self-reflectiveness, cheers me up more than anything else.

Here are the Selfie Steps to access the emotional energy you need to smile a genuine smile to as many people as you can.

  1. Slow down and enjoy the moment. Take a deep breath. Inhale and exhale, slowly, focusing on enjoying the moment that G-d has given you. Just for a moment, try and let go of the past and future, and things you have no control over.
  2. Practice smiling first thing in the morning. Make it a conscious decision first thing in the morning that you will smile to as many people as you could, as this is the best and only thing you can probably do to help them.
  3. Smile, not because other people expect you to, (which can have a negative effect) but because you have so much to smile about. G-d has blessed you with so much good!!! Smile inwards, towards yourself, as you deserve a boost in positivity, and you will smile outwardly. And then, watch how your smile spreads positivity like magic!
  4. Stop trying to solve everyone else’s problems.
  5. Think happy thoughts, happy memories. Meditating on gratitude is a sure smiley solution.
  6. Know what cheers you up, and what calms you down. Torah. Music. Good food. Nature. Gym. Volunteer work. Take a break from digital devices and spend more time with those you love.
  7. Believe that G-d is with you, that G-d loves you, that G-d believes in you, that G-d is Infinite, and He has infinite solutions.

About the author, Yosef

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