OBSERVATIONS II

By RABBI SHLOMO PRICE

GIVING THANKS

It is now July 13, 1998. About a week ago, I got back from the U.S.A. where I was able to grab in many simchas. I was at two Neveh weddings (Yochanan Berkowitz and Buddy Berkowitz [no relation]) , a family wedding, the Neveh dinner, and a reunion with my brothers whom I haven't seen for three years. Of course, I also got a chance to visit the graves of my parents, a.h.

At many of these occasions , I saw a lot of Neveh Alumni and their parents. Being in Neveh for almost 21 years, (The Yeshivah started in September, 77, I got married in October , 77 and I came to Neveh in November, 77) I saw many alumni, whom I didn't remember. I even met people who I thought were alumni and weren’t. So much for my memory. I also saw alumni and non alumni who liked the sichot on the Internet and in The Jewish Press. If the guys think they need a periodic chizuk from a rebbi, I can only say (at least about myself) that a rebbi can use plenty of chizuk as well. A rebbi puts a lot of effort into a sicha or a shiur and he doesn't really know if and who it affected. When I see and hear the parents and talmidim and others who take the time just to give a simple thank you, it is very encouraging and heartwarming.

Of course, we must learn to give thanks and show appreciation to human beings. We find that the Sefer Hachinuch in Mitzvah 33 - Kibbud Av V'em - Honoring your Parents - stresses this point very beautifully. He writes in the root of the mitzvah:

" From the roots of this mitzvah, is that it is proper for a person to appreciate and repay one who does with him a favor and not be ... an ingrate for this is a terrible trait... and he must realize that his parents were the cause of his existence in this world... and they even worked hard with him when he was young..."
But this is only a springboard. We must learn from thanking human beings to go higher and thank Hashem . As the Sefer Hacinuch, ibid. says:
"... And when he establishes this trait (of appreciating his parents) in his heart, he will learn from this to appreciate Hashem Who was the cause of his existence as well as his ancestors' until Adam HaRishon's existence on this world.... Hashem gave him an intellect... which without it, he would be like an animal... and he should realize how obligated he is to be careful in Hashem's service."
In fact , we must realize that thanking Hashem should precede thanking man. This is pointed out very well in the book, "Love Your Neighbor", in Parshas Lech lecho, p. 49-50.

He brings the Gemoro Nedorim 32b that says that Malki Zedek made a mistake by expressing gratitude first to Avraham and then to Hashem. He said, "...Blessed be Avram to Hashem....and blessed be Hashem the Most High Who has delivered your enemies into your hand." (Bereishis 14:18-20).

He also brings an interesting practical application from the Sefer Chasidim 844, cited in Kaf Hachaim - Orach Chaim 222.

When someone is told that his wife gave birth to a son, he should make the brocho "Hatov Vehameitiv" before thanking the person who told him the good news.

I want to conclude this point with an interesting observation from the first Mishna in Avoda Zoroh.

The Mishna says that three days before a goyishe holiday a Jew must not do business with a goy, lend to or borrow from them money .... Rashi (s.v." Lifnei Eideihen" ) comments that the reason is that the goy will go and give thanks to his idol (for the business deal or loan...) on his holiday. So the Jew is forbidden to do these things with the goy so as not to cause the goy to give thanks to his idol.

When I saw this Mishna it hit me, how our understanding of who really gives us sustenance and good things in this world and deserves our thanks, doesn't even come near to the understanding of the "old time goy"

When we have success we thank our benefactor, our stockbroker, lender... (and, of course, we should), but do we realize who really orchestrated our success? It was Hashem and we shouldn't forget to thank Him . My Rebbi, shlita, would say, "Saying Modim three times a day is not enough!"

Yet the "old time goy" has it ingrained in his understanding the concept of thanking his idols for his successes, so much so, that the halacha forbids us to deal with them three days before their holiday.

May Hashem help us to learn from the "old time goy" and ingrain in our hearts our obligation to thank Hashem and consequently how careful we should be with His mitzvos.

THE POWER OF A SIMPLE GREETING

There are certain simple phrases that people take for granted. They don't always say them-and even when they do, it's mumbled without any meaning . People just don't realize the meaning and power of these words.

"Good Morning" and "Good Evening" are just two perfect examples. People tend to think that it's a statement of fact. How many times have I greeted someone with a cheery good morning on a rainy or snowy day, only to have the fellow respond, "What's so good about it?" Obviously, the fellow thinks that I'm telling him a fact that it is a good morning, and he is refuting my statement by the weather conditions.(Of course if he would read the "The Jerry Lewis Sicha - Gam Zu L'Tovah" he would see the goodness even in poor weather conditions).

In truth, however, good morning and good evening are really "blessings". We are blessing the fellow that he should have a good morning.

In "Love Your Neighbor," Parshas Lech Lecho p. 44, Rabbi Pliskin stresses the point.

Hashem said to Avraham, "I will bless those that bless you..." (Bereishis 12:3).

The Gemoro Chulin 49a and Tosefos there (s.v. “Vavarecha Mevarachecha") explain that the words "those that bless you" refer to anyone (even a gentile) who blesses even a descendant of Avraham, will be blessed by Hashem..

The Ohr Yechezkel, by Rav Yechezkel Levenstien, p.4 shows from this posuk that blessing one's friend is a very worthwhile action. In return for the few words of blessing that we offer our friends, we receive Hashem's bountiful blessing.

Rabbi Pliskin concludes, with this observation.

" Remember - when you greet a fellow Jew with a cheery "Good morning" or "Good night," you are blessing him, and you will be blessed. Don't merely mumble the words. Be sincere and keep in mind that in essence you are saying, "I pray that you should have a good morning." (Eved Hamelech, Breishis, p.51a)
In fact, the English have a nice greeting ,instead of "Good Morning", which clearly depicts a blessing. They say, "Top of the Morning to you!" (Of course a comedian like Larry Storch on " "F" Troop" found a way of mangling that also. When the fellow told him "Top of the morning to you!", he responded "And the rest of the day to you!" After I heard that rejoinder, I couldn't wait to try that on some of my English friends.)

Of course, all of this should be sufficient evidence to prove how careful we should be with these simple and powerful greetings. However, I'll conclude with three powerful stories that , I hope, will always remind us not to underestimate the power of a simple greeting.

The first story is from "Chassidic Tales of the Holocaust," by Yaffa Eliach, p. 109.

She tells of a Chassidic rabbi who used to go for walks and would always greet even the gentile neighbors. To one of his neighbors ,Herr Muller, he would say "Good morning, Herr Muller." Herr Muller would respond, "Good morning, Herr Rabiner," with a good natured smile.

Then the war began. The Rabbi stopped his walks and Herr Muller put on a S.S. uniform. Eventually, the Rabbi was deported to Auschwitz.

The Rabbi was waiting on line of a selection. He heard the man up front, with the immaculate white gloves waving a baton, deciding people's fate, saying , Right!, Left, left, left.

As he drew nearer, he suddenly got an urge to see this man. He lifted his eyes and he heard his own voice speaking,

"Good Morning, Herr Muller!"

"Good Morning, Herr Rabiner!, What are you doing here?"

The baton moved to the right-to life. The following day, the Rabbi was transferred to a safer camp.

Many years later, the Rabbi, who was in his eighties, said, "This is the power of a good morning greeting. A man must always greet his fellow man."

A similar story is related by Rabbi Henoch Teller in his book "It's a Small Word After All.", p.31.

He tells of a Jewish lawyer who was saved by a simple elevator operator who tipped him off about the Gestapo looking for him. He even helped him to escape. The lawyer asked the elevator operator why he was helping him. The operator responded that everyone else in the office building just ignored him . They never even greeted him. They treated him as if he was a fixture in the elevator. But you are different. You greet me and take an interest in my welfare. That is why I'm helping you.

The final story is a more recent . It is from the book, "Visions of Greatness, Vol III", by Rabbi Yosef Weiss, p.131. It was related by Rabbi Moshe Aharon Stern, z.t.l. Mashgiach in Kaminetzer Yeshivah Yerushalaim.

Recently, they sent shochitim (slaughterers) from Eretz Yisroel to a new plant in South America. They slaughtered the animals there and sent the meat to Eretz Yisroel.

Every evening, the owner would inspect the premises and make sure that everything was in order. Then he would lock up for the night. One night ,as the owner finished the inspection, he came outside to lock up. He met the night watchman who told him that there is still one slaughterer in there. The owner was surprised, as he just inspected the premises and found it empty. Nevertheless, he went through the building and found it empty again.

The night watchman begged the owner again, "I know that he is still in there. Maybe there is something wrong and he's in trouble! Could you please check more thoroughly?"

Moved by the watchman's genuine concern, the owner tried looking a third time.

When he got to the big freezer, it dawned upon him that it was big enough for people to be in there.

He opened it up and found three slaughterers in there nearly frozen. He quickly called the ambulance and had them taken to the hospital. It seems that they had gone in to check on the meat and the door had closed on them. They banged and yelled but there was no response. Fortunately, the owner found them in time and they recovered in a few days.

Later, the owner asked the night watchman how was he so sure that there was somebody there. After all, the owner himself checked the premises twice very thoroughly and found it empty. Also, why didn't you tell me that three people were in there?

The night watchman answered, "Ever since these men came, a few months ago, there was one of them who would always greet me good morning every morning and good evening every evening. He has done this everyday without fail. That day I remembered that he had said hello to me in the morning, but he had not wished me good night. That's how I knew that he, at least, was definitely still in there."

The owner reflected, "A simple greeting! Yet it had saved not only the slaughterer's own life but also the lives of two of his colleagues."

SMILING

Another related topic is the importance of smiling. It is so simple to do, doesn't cost any money, and we don't realize its power.

I heard recently, from Rabbi Krohn a beautiful insight on a famous chazal. It is from the Yalkut Meam Loez on Devarim 28:47

The Gemoro Taanis 22a relates how Rav Broka met Eliyahu Hanavy in the market place. Eliyahu told Rav Broka that these two men have a straight ticket to Olom Habo. When Rav Broka asked them what did they do so special that they were going straight to Olom Habo?

They responded, "We are happy people and we make others happy."

Why did they mention that they were happy people ?
All they should have said is that they made others happy?

The Yalkut Meam Loez learns from here, that if one wants to make others happy, he himself must be happy. If they were sad people then even if they would want to make others happy they would not be able to.

Rabbi Pliskin, in Love Your Neighbor, Parshas Vayechi, p.126-127 , brings another Chazal in the Gemoro Kesubos 111b

"When one shows his teeth (in a smile) to his fellow man, it is better than giving him milk to drink."
Rabbi Pliskin elaborates on this by quoting Rabbi Avigdor Miller in "Sing, You Righteous," p. 294.
"How highly we would consider a man who gave drinks of milk to passersby everyday. What a benefactor of mankind! A drink of milk provides essential nourishment and becomes part of all that the recipient does thereafter. Yet this man does less than one who smiles at his fellow man. The smile enters the recipient's mind and body, and stimulates all the glands to produce their secretions in the most beneficial proportions. Every one of the thousands of intricate processes of physical function is optimally motivated."
Rabbi Pliskin writes further in Love Your Neighbor, Parshas Noso, p.342, from his rebbi, Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Katz, the late Telzer Rosh Hayeshivah, about the importance of greeting others.
" He would point out that very often a cheery "Good Morning" can brighten up the entire day for someone who feels a bit dejected. Show people that you care about them by greeting them in a friendly manner."
I saw a similar point in a wonderful children's book (it's great for adults too), by Rabbi Chaim Walder called , "Our Heroes" p. 129.

He tells how Rav Shlomo Wolbe would tell his students that sometimes boys meet their friends on the way to shul.

Those who say "good morning" in a warm way, restores life to the one that hears them, and probably makes him learn that day with enthusiasm and joy.

However, there are those who say the words indifferently without a radiant countenance. He puts the one that hears them in a bad mood.

He also brought a beautiful story of Rav Moshe Feinstien z.t.l. He was at one wedding and he was rushing to another wedding. It took him a while to get out as everyone was asking him for blessings and advice. Finally, he got in the car and the driver started to leave the parking lot. All of a sudden, Rav Moishe tells him to stop. He said that he has to return to the wedding. The driver obliged and followed Rav Moshe back into the hall. He saw Rav Moshe looking for and finally going over to a Jew and speaking to him smilingly for a few moments. When the driver got back in the car, he asked Rav Moshe who the man was. He was certain that he must have been some hidden tzaddik.

Rav Moshe told the driver that he had never seen this man in his life. However, this man had asked Rav Moshe for a blessing just as the elevator door was closing. Rav Moshe was preoccupied with not having the door close on him, so he could not greet him with his usual radiant countenance. As he was leaving the parking lot , he remembered the look of disappointment on the man's face . That's why he felt obligated to return and greet him.

All I can add to this beautiful story is one simple reflection. We all know that Rav Moshe's time was precious, and he never wasted a momemt . Nevertheless, he felt it so important to spend a lot of his precious time in greeting a fellow Jew. We, certainly, who waste so much time with trivialities, should take the few moments and make the effort to greet our fellow Jew with a radiant countenance.

I , myself, remember that many times people commented how much my big smile gave them chizuk and encouragement. I also remember a saying, "Smile, it adds to your FACE value."

The Mishna in Pirkey Avos Chapter I Mishna 15 stresses:

"Shamai says,...and receive everyone with a cheerful face."
The Tiferes Yisroel (59) points out that this is referring even to a gentile.

There is another Mishna in Pirkey Avos Chapter IV Mishna 15 (20-in the siddur).

"Rabbi Masya ben Charash said, Initiate a greeting to every person..."
The Bartenura there says even to a gentile.

The Gemoro Berochos 17a relates that no one ever greeted Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai first, even the gentile in the marketplace.

I remember my Mashgiach in the Mir, Brooklyn , Rav Tzvi Feldman, z.t.l. made a beautiful point.

He quoted the Rashi in Chumash, Shmos 21:37, who brings the gemoro in Baba Kama 79b that Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai explained why if a thief steals and slaughters an ox he pays five times the ox. Yet if he steals and slaughters a lamb he only pays four times?

Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai answered, "Come and see how great is human dignity. An ox that goes on its feet ( and follows the thief so he doesn't have to degrade himself when he steals it) he pays five times. A lamb which the thief must carry on his shoulders (and degrade himself) you only pay four." (I refer you to the "Toiling in Torah " sicha where I elaborate on the lessons to be learned from this Chazal).

Rav Feldman, z.t.l. pointed out that it was befitting that the very same Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai, who in the Gemoro Berochos was sensitive to human dignity by greeting first even a gentile in the marketplace, should also stress the aspect of human dignity here by a thief.

I recently heard a tape from Rabbi Krohn on Shalom Bayis. The first thing he stresses is the importance of smiling and being happy and consequently making your spouse happy. He said many beautiful insights about this point. I will mention a few.

A smile is a LITTLE curve that sets A LOT of things straight.

Your face is a reshus harabim - public property. Be careful how your facial expression is. Remember, other people have to see your face more than you do.(I once saw that one who goes around with a sad face is like putting a bor - pit in public property).

There is a story with Rav Yisroel Salanter that during Elul (I heard it was between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur) he saw a Jew walking along with a very sad face. Rav Yisroel asked the Jew why he was so forlorn. The Jew said he was doing teshuvah. Rav Yisroel told him, "If you are doing teshuvah, why should I suffer?" We see here a very important point. Rav Yisroel, the epitome of Mussar , understood more than anybody what doing teshuvah was. Yet, teshuvah notwithstanding, you can't do it on someone else's expense. That includes greeting your fellow man with a radiant countenance.

Rabbi Krohn also brought a beautiful point from Rav Chaim Shmuelewitz. (I also saw this in "Growth Through Torah" on Parshas Vayigash, p.128-130).

In Bereishis 47:8-9 the Daas Zekeinim Mebaalei Hatosfos comments as follows:

When Pharoh asked Yacov how old he was, Yacov answered that he was 130 years old "few and bad". Yacov was explaining that he was really younger than he looked. However, his troublesome life caused him to look much older.

Then he brings the Midrash that when Yacov said "they were few and bad" , Hashem said to him, "I saved you from Eisav and Lavan. I gave you back Dinah and Yosef and you're complaining that it was few and bad! I swear that I will decrease from your years 33 years corresponding to the 33 words of these pesukim (8-9). You will not live as long as your father Yitzchok. He lived to 180, Yacov only lived to 147."

Rav Chaim asks that the 8 words of posuk 8 constitute Paroh's question. Why should Yacov lose years of his life for Paroh's question?

He answers that it was Yacov's facial expression that caused Paroh to ask the question in the first place. Paroh saw that Yacov looked very old, sad, and broken. His troubles had made his hair prematurely white and this elicited Paroh to ask the question. Had Yacov smiled and had joy in his life, he would not look so old and Paroh would not have asked the question. That's why Yacov lost years even for Paroh's question.

Rabbi Krohn pointed out that we have to learn from this something very important.

Let's face it. We don't have the problems that Yacov had. Imagine, Yacov had a brother who wanted to kill him, a father-in-law who was a cheat and a liar, a daughter that was kidnapped, a son that was sold, and a young wife who died at 36, and Hashem still wants him to smile!! So what should we say?

May Hashem help us to have the proper perspective of life, so we can smile and be happy and make others happy.

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