It is every kid’s worst nightmare and six-year-old Jaden Hayes (from Savannah, Georgia) has lived it -twice. First he lost his dad when he was four and then last month his mother died unexpectedly in her sleep.
What does one do if faced with such a terrible disaster? How does one cope, especially a young 6 year old child?
The world is full of trials and tribulations, and there are plenty of excuses to cause a person to be sad, but Jaden took on a different angle to his grief. A side he first made public a few weeks ago when he told his aunt, and now guardian, Barbara DiCola, that he was sick and tired of seeing everyone sad all the time. And he had a plan to fix it.
Jaden asked his aunt Barbara to buy a bunch of little toys and bring him to downtown Savannah, Georgia near where he lives, so he could give them away.
“I’m trying to make people smile,” said Jaden.
Jaden targeted people who weren’t already smiling and turned their day around. He aimed to affect 33,000 people, but since he started his campaign has gone viral and today millions are smiling because of him.
When Yakov Avinu blessed his children before he passed away, the following blessing was received by Yehuda. “The eyes will be reddened from an abundance of wine and the teeth whitened from an abundance of milk”. Our Sages look deeper into these words and teach us that there is a hidden message in this blessing. Yakov was hinting at how amazing Yehuda was and would be in encouraging others to smile. “The teeth whitened” represents that we should show people our white teeth when we greet them – a reminder to always smile at another person!
In fact, the Mishna (Pirkei Avot) teaches that one should always make the effort to be the first to greet others when encountering them. That’s right! Every encounter is a race. The next time you see someone coming towards you, be sure to greet them before they greet you! When you smile at another person you illuminate your face, which in turn illuminates theirs – and perhaps illuminates their entire day. In our day and age with all the many stresses of life, whether in the home, at the office or any place else that takes their strain on a person — a smile, an illumination can truly have an effect on others.
This week’s Parasha describes the ninety-eight Kelalot (curses) that G-d threatens to bring upon Bnei Yisrael should they disobey the Torah. At one point in this section, the Torah informs us of the particular cause of these calamities: “Tachat Asher Lo Avadeta Et Hashem Elokecha Be’simcha” – “on account of the fact that you did not serve Hashem your G-d with joy” (Devarim 28:47). Surprisingly, the Torah here does not refer to a generation that simply disregarded the Mitzvot; it speaks of a generation of Jews that are indeed loyal to G-d’s laws, but begrudgingly, without joy and enthusiasm. The Torah demands not only that we obey the Mitzvot, but that we rejoice and take pleasure in the performance of Mitzvot. In other words, the Torah demands that we be happy.
This requirement is expressed in other contexts, as well. King David famously wrote (Tehillim 100:2) “Ivdu et Hashem Be’simcha” – “Serve G-d with joy.” He didn’t instruct simply, “Serve G-d,” but rather than we must do so “with joy.”
The Gemara in Ta’anit presents the famous rule, “Mi’shenichnas Adar Marbim Be’simcha” – “When [the month of] Adar comes, we increase our joy.” Conversely, we also read, “Mi’shenichnas Av Mema’atim Be’simcha” – “When [the month of] Av comes, we decrease our joy.” These two passages work on the same basic assumption that a Jew must constantly live in a state of happiness. Halacha requires increasing or decreasing the level of joy at different periods of the year, but some level of Simcha (joy) must be maintained at all times. Rabbi Shimon Schwab compared the requirement of Simcha to a pilot light on a gas range. The flame must always remain lit, and one lowers or raises the fire as needed. Similarly, a Jew must live each day of the year with a certain degree of happiness, which he increases or decreases depending on the particular season.
In Sefer Melachim I (8:66), the prophet tells that after the fourteen days of celebration for the inauguration of the Bet Ha’mikdash the Benei Yisrael returned home happy. What was the cause of their happiness? As Rabbi Avraham Pam noted, it could not have been just the delicacies and fine wine they enjoyed during the celebration. Many among Benei Yisrael lived a distance of several days’ travel from Jerusalem, and yet the prophet tells that they felt joyous upon returning home – long after the pleasure provided by the food and wine had subsided. They were happy because of the spiritual elevation they had just experienced during the inauguration of the Temple. As the Yalkut Shimoni remarks on this verse, they rejoiced “because they enjoyed the glory of the Shechina.”
We live in a blessed generation. Whereas in the past, the land of Israel was desolate and barren, it is now thriving. In the past, it took weeks to travel to the Holy Land, yet now it takes hours in comfort. Water, fresh fruit and delicacies are abundant, and we generally live free of fear.
If our great grandparents would get out of their graves and see the lifestyle we live, they would ask “Why are you not smiling?”
Our eagerness in performing Hashem’s Will shows a great deal of the sincerity in which we serve Hashem. When we arrive early to the synagogue and leave late, we show that we are happy with our relationship with Hashem. When we happily go out our way to help another person, fast on Yom Kippur or build a Succah, we show that we are privileged and content at being G-d’s servant.
The best way forward is not to keep that excitement inside, but rather share it with others. Let everyone see how happy you are that you are alive and able to connect with the King of Kings through performing Mitsvot. Let your inner content shine through and your “teeth whiten”!
Smiles are contagious, they light up the world. Like a candle, a smile can light many lights without itself being diminished. If you smile at 5 people, and they pass the smile on to 5 people and they pass it on to 5 more… then by the 15th passing on, you will have smiled at the whole world.
What are you waiting for? Let’s start now!