In this week’s Torah portion (Devarim 12: 5), Moshe reiterates Hashem’s commandment to build a Beit Mikdash, where korbanot and trumot will be brought. Moshe then goes on to say (ibid., 7) “And you shall eat there before Hashem your G-d and you will be happy in all your occupations, you and your household, with which Hashem your G-d has blessed you.”
The Sforno says that this verse refers to the principle of “ivdu et Hashem b’simcha,” serving Hashem with joy, as is befitting someone who serves out of love. The Midrash Sifri connects this mention of simcha with another (Devarim 26:11) and says they both refer to bringing a korban shelamim, a peace offering.
In this article I would like to bring a principle from Meir Panim that discusses the symbolism of the Korban Lechem Hapanim and how the shape of the bread resembles the letter kaf, a smiling face. Since the Lechem Hapanim is a bracha for parnasa, livelihood, there is an intricate connection between happiness and a person’s occupation.
In Pirkei Avot (1:16) Shammai says “Greet (mekabel) every person with a smiling countenance.” The Rambam changes the word mekabel to makbil – parallel, in other words: “parallel every person with a smile.” In doing so the Rambam teaches us an important fundamental property of a smile. Smiling is not one directional, it has the awesome power to elicit a parallel smile from the person opposite you. We experience this in everyday life. How many people can resist a baby’s smile and not smile back? To confirm this theory for yourself, try randomly smiling at people on the street, people you have never met before, and more often than not, they will smile back. It is a kind of a universal “accepted protocol” of politeness.
However, it goes beyond that. In Shammai’s saying above, he says “mekabel kol ha’adam,” which is commonly translated as “every person,” but that is not the literal translation. Literally it translates as “all the man.” Shammai is hinting to another, deeper layer of a smile. A smile is not only directed outward, to other people, but also inwards, to yourself. Shammai is teaching us to also smile at ourselves, to make inner peace within ourselves. We often have inner turmoil, alternately confronted with conflicting realities – periods in life when we are riding the wave, and others when we feel like we are sinking.
Shammai is teaching us to smile at both the good and the bad, which are opposite sides of the same coin, the same Divine goodness that Hashem bestows upon us. Sometimes we are blessed with simchas and sometimes Hashem sends us challenges, the purpose of which is to purify our souls to merit greater rewards in the Olam Habah, the World to Come. If someone takes the shortsighted view that this world is the only world, they cannot understand nisayonot,” trials. Someone who takes the long view and understands that the true purpose of our lives here in this world is ultimately to prepare us for Olam Habah, then by cleansing us of our iniquities in this world, we merit our true rewards in the next.
However, the association of simcha in our above verse is specifically related to a person’s occupation or profession. Studies conducted by research psychologists into the ramifications of personal interactions in the business world reveal an amazing correlation between what Shammai is teaching us and the reality on the ground.
A smile has two major components, the mouth and the eyes. The muscles that control the mouth are not autonomous; they are controlled by will. The muscles that contract the eyes as part of a genuine smile, what is termed a “Duchenne” smile, cannot be controlled by will, they are an automatic reaction to an inner feeling of happiness, manifested by a narrowing of the eyelids and “crow’s feet” wrinkles in the corners of the eyes.
Psychological studies have shown beyond any doubt that people who smile more in their work succeed more in their work (except perhaps traffic cops handing out pink slips). Similarly, when someone has a job interview, the Achilles heel that trips people up is their inability to smile and to make direct eye contact.
A genuine smile is a form of energy, an inner light radiating out from the soul that has a definite, positive effect on the surroundings. It is one of the key factors determining a person’s success in their work – not only in your profession but in your general interaction with others. Smiling has the power to generate peace. Not surprisingly, the Sifri says that the “simcha” referred to above is a Korban Shlamim, a peace offering. It all begins with a smile, an inward smile making peace within yourself and then a smile radiating outwards like a beacon of light.
This is the true and ultimate form of avodat Hashem, to serve Hashem from an inner peace and tranquility that radiates pure joy.
Parshat HaShavua Trivia Question: How many simanei kashrut, kosher signs, are there in mammals? Fish? Birds? Flying insects?
Answer to Last Week’s Trivia Question: What kind of laundry did Am Yisrael have in Midbar Sin? A “Chinese” laundry – “Sin” in modern Hebrew is China! Seriously though, it was an Ananei Kavod,” Clouds of Glory, laundry. Am Yisrael would hang up their clothes before going to sleep each night and would wake up the following morning to find them laundered and neatly pressed by the Clouds of Glory. Not only cleaned, but seamlessly repaired and altered so that the same clothes continued to fit them as they grew in the 40 years in the desert.