A Smile: So Easy & So Important

The coolness of a fall night settled all around me as I sped along my neighborhood streets, pumping my legs to make my bike move. My daughter at my side, the cool wind whipping through our wheels caught us like a cold kiss on the skin, exhilarating and freezing at the same time.

Young couple riding bicycles at sunset.Night was falling quickly in grays and lavenders. It was a last chance at exercise before darkness settled completely.

The days are ending sooner now, and starting later. I love the place that I live. Yes, we have seasons, but that’s one of the great joys of living here, the changes.

The other day, my son and I noticed the leaves on the trees turning red and orange and yellow at the highest points, and we sighed into it, expecting it every year but delighted all the same.

It’s actually the perfect time, right now. Morning comes quietly and with cool air shivering inside the open windows. Midday offers bright sun and blue skies and warm temperatures, but they lapse into coolness quickly as the sun begins to lower.

By night, it’s all over and we reach for sweatshirts and fleeces to cuddle in.

On this bike ride, the adrenaline pumping in my ears, I felt so grateful to live here.

Trees everywhere. Paved streets shaded in summer and protected at night. Houses close together, each one different and charming in its own way.

And neighbors jogging, running, walking their dogs, riding their bikes, too. Every single one of them smiled in my direction if I didn’t smile first.

I was learning this morning with my friend Batsheva and read the part in Pirkei Avot where we are told by Shammai to offer every person a smile.

cheering-hiking-woman-open-arms-at-mountain-peak-000045952608_XXXLarge“Shammai says: Make your Torah study a fixed practice; say little and do much; and receive everyone with a cheerful face.”

The commentators explain that it’s about setting priorities for what matters in life rather than being frivolous with your limited time.

Says one commentary, “The key to a life of achievement and worth is the ability to identify what should be central in a person’s life and what is peripheral. People flounder if they have no anchor of direction and purpose. The word keva denotes a permanence of place. Shammai uses it to impart a permanence of direction and goal in life.”

The sentence runs altogether: regular study, be a person of action, and smile at everyone you pass.

The Chazon Ish, a great rabbinic sage from Bnei Brak, said, “One’s heart is a private domain, and one’s face is a public domain.”

It goes back to Abraham, whose tent was open on all sides to receive guests, and continues forward to this day. There is simply on reason to greet anyone with less than a cheerful demeanor and at the very least, a smile, if not a friendly word.

traditional pole marqueeMy youngest son and I were talking the other day about the differences between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. I broke it down for him to outline the connections between the three, after he pointed out that “it seems like Christianity is part Judaism.”

Yes, I said, that’s exactly it. We all share the same roots, the same forefather, Abraham. So why is it that we diverge so greatly?

Our common point from way back in the beginnings of civilized society point to a man who welcomed everyone into his tent, whose very foundation it was to usher guests into his observances. If we cannot see our commonality, then we have lost everything that came after.

A simple smile, as you pass someone while riding vigorously on a bike you’ve had for 21 years, down a familiar neighborhood street. It’s really easy to do. And it goes a very long way.

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