All It Takes Is A Smile

Portrait of a smiling businessman in front of a blue modern back

By: Sara Gila Margulies

Words have power. In every utterance, there is real opportunity to build up another person and affect him positively forever. Wishing a simple ‘good morning’ to a neighbour, giving a sincere compliment to a friend, or asking about a co-worker’s wellbeing with genuine interest can impact the recipient in ways that we could never imagine. The person will feel cared for, respected, and valued. And this, in turn, can bring joy to his day and give him a feeling of self-worth that can be cherished for a lifetime.

The following true story clearly illustrates this point:

Mechel Tauber received a phone call from Rabbi Berel Oppenheim of Yeshivah Ohr Yechezkel in Monsey. Rabbi Oppenheim needed Mr. Tauber’s assistance in getting permission from the township officials to begin construction on a new building for the yeshivah. Since it was well-known that Mr. Tauber was friendly with Phil O’Reilly, who worked at the nearby township offices, Rabbi Oppenheim was hoping that Mr. Tauber could speak with Mr. O’Reilly on the yeshivah’s behalf. “I really would like to help you,” Mr. Tauber sighed, “but that’s a hard one. I don’t speak to Phil often, although we do get along well. Also, Phil isn’t Jewish and, unfortunately, isn’t particularly fond of the Jewish population here. Your yeshivah is not the only place that has had a hard time getting building permits.” “Can you at least try?” Rabbi Oppenheim begged. Mr. Tauber agreed to do his best and made an appointment to speak to Mr. O’Reilly. “So, Mr. Tauber,” Mr. O’Reilly greeted him happily the next morning. “What are you building today?” Readying himself to deal with the negative reaction that was sure to follow, Mr. Tauber began to explain the reason for his visit. “Well, actually, I’m not coming for myself today. I wanted to speak to you on behalf of a yeshivah.” “A yeshivah? Sure! What do they need?” Mr. Tauber couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “I appreciate your readiness to help, but honestly Phil…what’s gotten into you?” Mr. O’Reilly smiled at Mr. Tauber’s confusion. “I’d like to share a story with you. My mother lives in a nursing home nearby. When I visit her, she is often in a very depressed state. One weekend, though, I found her smiling and looking very happy. I was pleased to see her in a better mood, so I asked her, ‘Mom, why are you in such a good mood today?’ Do you know what she answered me? She said, ‘Phil, it’s because a rabbi smiled at me and wished me a good morning! Now, I go out every morning at the same time just so I can see him. He makes my day.’ I’m telling you, Mr. Tauber, this rabbi changed my mother’s life! She is a different person now. So when you say the word ‘yeshivah,’ I’m ready to help you. What can I do for you?” From that day on, Phil O’Reilly was always ready to help the Jewish schools and organisations whenever there was a problem.

Mr. Tauber later found out that the friendly rabbi was none other than Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, ztz”l, Rosh Yeshivah of Mesivta Torah Vodaath in Brooklyn, New York, and a great Torah sage. Rav Yaakov understood the power of a smile and a greeting to another person. Look how far his greeting to an elderly, non-Jewish woman went! How difficult was it for the Rosh Yeshivah to take a moment and wish someone a friendly good morning? Likely, it was not very hard. Yet it was this small gesture that made a profound impact on a lonely soul, ultimately enabling a yeshivah to acquire much-needed permits for a new building.

It’s incumbent upon us to heed this important lesson. Despite the frenetic pace and stresses of our own daily lives; it only takes a moment to flash a smile and wish someone a good day. Not only will this positively impact that person, but even more, it will likely cause an endless ripple effect, as that person may then be inspired to reach out warmly and graciously to others he meets that day – and so on and so forth. Who knows just how far a pleasant greeting or kind word will travel? The effects are inestimable! And we mustn’t forget that, by doing so, we profoundly impact ourselves as well, becoming more caring, genuine people.

Sara Gila Margulies is a staff writer for the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation (CCHF), an organisation based in the USA dedicated to promoting the Torah’s wisdom on human relations and personal development. In South Africa, the Chofetz Chaim Educational Foundation makes CCHF programming on positive/proper speech available to local Jewish schools and communities. For more information: cchfsa@gmail.com

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