15 - Situations - And Greet Every Person With A Pleasant Expression

Greet people pleasantly. Show them that their presence is welcome to you. Extend such kindness even to a wicked person, for perhaps you will blow into the flame a spark of repentance in his heart.

We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create z’chuyos for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.


Last week’s stretch of the week was:  Do one nice thing you wouldn't normally do, to take yourself out of your comfortable "bubble".   

Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.

Situations  Lesson #15


And Greet Every Person With A Pleasant Expression 

והוי מקבל את כל האדם בסבר פנים יפות

V’hevay M’kabel Es Kol Ha’adam B’sever Panim Yafos

Perek Aleph, Mishna Tes Vav Part 1

Story(based on a true story)

I’m busy.  Isn’t everyone?

I tend to have a running to-do list going in my head, often superimposed on a schedule. Wake up.  Wash hands and get dressed before any of the kids come for me or scream.  Put lunches in backpacks.  Wake Nechama up, give her five extra minutes, wake Shimmy up, get him dressed, go back to re-wake Nechama and hand her clothes, wake up Avi, etc.  Make sure all kids eat breakfast and take any morning medicine before getting them all in the car so I can drive the first carpool, preferably without having to redress anyone.  Get carpool to school on time, start the next one.  Repeat.

In order to get it all done, I have to go go go.  When Penina wanders downstairs for the first time while I’m doing lunches, I can say, “Good morning” and tell her what time she needs to be ready by.  I don’t have time to stop what I’m doing, give her a cozy hug and ask how she’s doing that morning.  Yes, this is what she wants, but if I do that, by the time I’m done listening Shimmy has barreled into the kitchen, tried to pour himself juice and pulled apart his lunch because “I don’t like jelly today.” 

I’ve always told my husband, “I’m a doer.  I need to get it all done, and then I can relax and relate.”  He tends to tell me that it doesn’t always work that way.  I tell him he’s not around in the morning to help get everyone out of the house, and that it must be a mom thing.  I got my kids where they needed to be, on time.  I got their homework done, got them to their activities and showered and changed, and at the end of the day, I hugged them and told them good night.  Doesn’t every mom largely focus on managing her family and getting things done? 

Last year, I learned that the answer was that one does not exclude the other.  I joined a new carpool for my girls, and found that one of the mothers baffled me.  Instead of sending her kids out the front door in the morning or running out with them to buckle in the little kids and then saying goodbye and running back in the house, Shifra stayed for a few minutes at my car, each and every day.  I know she is a very busy person with a close-to-full time job and multiple carpools, but every day she would calmly say hello to every single child in the car.  

Shifra would complement a new haircut or a great sweatshirt, and tell someone who had been out sick that it was wonderful to have her back.  She also made sure to kiss each of her kids who were at that stage.  Only then did she run back to her house to resume her morning.   

I started to take a good look at myself.  Yes, I said hi to the kids who get in the car.  But more often than not, what I said after that was, “Are you buckled yet?”  Yes, I spoke to the kids.  I asked about things in their lives when I remembered or wasn’t too focused on running my upcoming day through my head and making sure we were on time.  It’s not that I didn’t think it was important to greet people; it’s that I didn’t make it a priority.  

I started looking at my actions, hard.  I began to stop myself to ask the kids questions about their days and actually pay attention to the answers before sending them off to put things away and start their homework.  I began making it a priority to give Shimmy a hug and a toss whenever he left or came home, or even came down the stairs.  I stopped Nechama for a quick arm-squeeze before she ran out the door to catch her bus, and established five minutes to listen to just her when she came home at the end of the day; a happier kid is worth a spilled cup of juice or two.  And I saw results.  The whole house calmed down a couple of steps, and I felt calmer.  

So I reached outside the house.  I began working on smiling instead of rushing the kids in carpool.  I worked on adding a “Hi” or “Hello” to the beginning of all my emails instead of just started in on what I wanted to take care of.  I started smiling at cashiers in stores even if they were moving really slowly, and asking how they were doing or complementing them on something.  And it didn’t even take much more time-I just had to slow my brain down enough to see the people I speak to as people, and not just cogs in getting my day done. 

I am proud to say that I am slowly turning myself into a person who believes that how you interact with people, particularly how you greet them, can be more important than making sure you check off all the boxes of taking care of things on time and that not being negative isn’t enough-you have to be positive.  That’s how you build relationships and build people, including yourself.  

Pirkay Avos:

".והוי מקבל את כל האדם בסבר פנים יפות…״שמאי אומר

“Shammai omer:  …v’hevay m’kabel es kol ha’adam b’sever panim yafos.”

“Shammai says:  …and greet every person with a pleasant expression.” (Perek Aleph, Mishne Tes Vav).

Greet people pleasantly.  Show them that their presence is welcome to you.  Extend such kindness even to a wicked person, for perhaps you will blow into flame a spark of repentance in his heart.  

Our sages teach that “even if you give someone the finest gifts, if you do so scowling, you may as well have done nothing.  But if you greet someone graciously, even if you give him nothing, you are considered to have bestowed upon him the greatest treasures and riches” (Avos DeRabbi Nosson).  The core of a kind deed is the good feeling that it engenders.  Our sages state that smiling at someone is even greater than feeding him.  

Interestingly, it is Shammai, known for his legalistic approach, who promulgates the importance of greeting others pleasantly.  We can thus infer that this practice is not an act of generosity above and beyond the strict requirement of the law bit one’s basic duty.  

In this mishna, Shammai first impresses upon us the importance of learning Torah-asay Torascha ke’va, make your Torah learning set.  However, as R’ Meir Lehman comments, more than one person has mistakenly believed that since Torah learning is of such primary importance, it comprises one’s sole obligation in life.  That this is not so is made clear by Shammai’s next statement that we must say little and do much, i.e. we must perform many good deeds.  A person might at this point conclude that in order to dedicate himself to Torah learning and performing good deeds, he must withdraw from contact with others.  No, Shammai tells him:  greet people pleasantly.  Despite your other obligations, that must be your principle concern.

(Reproduced from Rav Lau on Pirkei Avos, with permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd.)

Discussion Question Options:

Why are greetings so important?  What can happen if we leave them out?

How can a greeting change a person’s day?  Has it ever changed yours?

How can we get ourselves to insert more positive greetings into our lives? 

Stretch of the Week:

Greet one person warmly who you normally might not greet in that way.  


Stretch Of The Week