DAY 1425: The Mitzvah of Smiling

May 25, 2016
By bethmordecai
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DAY 1425: The Mitzvah of Smiling

Reflection on this weekend’s Scholar in Residence Weekend — From Being Jewish to Doing Jewish: Deepening Our Jewish Identities

מָֽה־אָשִׁ֥יב לַיהוָ֑ה כָּֽל־תַּגְמוּל֥וֹהִי עָלָֽי׃

How can I repay unto the LORD All His bountiful dealings toward me?

(Psalm 116:12)

Dear Hevreh,

Smiling. It’s one of the most important things we can do, but also one of the hardest. We smile when we’re happy, laughing, and enjoying our experience, but too often we walk into life’s moments with a skeptic’s frown; we demand that others impress us before rewarding them with a smile of acceptance.

As a rabbi looking out at a congregation on Shabbat morning or during the holidays, the task of turning a skeptic’s frown into a believer’s smile can be daunting. If you don’t believe me, next time you come into shul take a moment to consider your facial expressions — do you notice yourself smiling like a believer or frowning like a skeptic? Even sitting amongst colleagues during Monday’s Rabbinical Assembly convention, it was striking to notice how much easier it was to frown than to smile.

Such was not the case for our scholar this past weekend, Rabbi Jonathan Porath. His smile was stitched to his face, welcoming all who entered and inviting our community to engage with his enthusiastic love of Jewish life. From the caring, funny, and poignant stories he shared from his personal life, to his gentle and yet forceful encouragement to perform more mitzvot and express blessings of gratitude, Rabbi Porath generated many smiles this weekend for the over 120 (including returnees) members of our extended community who came to our programming.

Personally, the mitzvah/blessing Rabbi Porath emphasized which I’m thinking about most deeply is the one that encourages us to smile — hakarat hatov, “recognizing the good.” What this means, according to Rabbi Porath, is that when we get a 97 out of 100 on a test to notfocus on the 3 percent we got wrong. When we look less critically and more lovingly — at our selves, our family, our friends, our professions, and the world around us — we will observe the incredible good around us, all of the bountiful things that we are privileged to have and receive. And when we recognize that incredible bounty, when we do the mitzvah of hakarat hatov, it will lead us to the “mitzvah” of smiling.

Still smiling from this weekend,

Rabbi Ari Saks

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