43 - Situations - Be The First To Greet Every Individual

“a person should always…turn aside wrath and increase peace with his brothers, relatives, and (all) men…so that he will be beloved in heaven and on earth, and accepted by people” (B'rachos 17a).



Last week’s stretch of the week was:  Ask a student, a child, or someone you usually help out to teach or tell you something from their knowledge or experience.

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



Lesson #43


Be The First To Greet Every Individual

הוי מקדים בשלום כל אדם

He'vay Makdim B’Shlom Kol Adam

Perek Daled, Mishna Chaf

Story(based on a true story)

How to be a pleasant person who brings peace this world, by Chaya Silverman.  First, say hi to the crossing guard by my kids’ school.  Second, thank her for her help.  Third, do that raised-hand-wave thank you thing to the cars that stop for us.  Fourth, say good morning to whoever the school has doing outside duty for drop-off.  Fifth, SMILE at kids as I send them off into school, and wait until they have gone in to mumble, “Thank you HaShem.  I survived the weekend.  Let someone else deal with them now.”

Next, off to work.  Say hi to the door security guard and don’t complain about having to sign in all my info when I come in almost every day; it’s his job.  Rush to weekly Monday morning meeting and greet everyone quickly in the thirty seconds before it starts.  Don’t fall asleep.  Thank my boss for all the updates when the meeting is over and head off to pull my first client’s file for review.  Greet client, listen, take notes, ask questions, recommend, plan follow-up, say goodbye.  Repeat, repeat, eat lunch at desk, repeat again.  Say goodbye to the secretary I forgot to greet as I rushed in, and thank her for something specific she helped me with today.

Pick up kids, SMILE, homework, dinner, baths, bedtime stories, sleep.  For them, not me.  I’m not sleeping too well these days.

My life has been on auto-pilot lately.  I’m a bit of an emotional mess because I am currently not on great terms with my first cousin, with whom I was raised pretty much like sisters.  We spoke almost daily and saw each other every couple of weeks.  Then a few months ago she got very upset over something I did during a family simcha that I had no idea would slight her.  She remained upset even after I came to understand and apologized for it, repeatedly.  Apparently it was the straw that broke the camel’s back that I didn’t know existed, and she has decided that she can’t handle talking to me for a while.  It’s been over two months since I gave up trying after my third consecutive call went unanswered and unreturned.  I’m now pretty upset at her too. 

It is affecting my whole life, even outside of the void in my every-day life and the complicated conversations with extended family and the bas mitzva where I was not welcome.  The air of disagreement and resentment poisons my mood and the smoothness of my thought processes.  I now understand why my kindergarten teacher always sang, “Shalom makes the world go round.”  Even if my clearly biased viewpoint tells me I’m in the right about this argument, I’ve only got justice and truth; I still need peace as the third pillar to hold up my world.  Now that I don’t have it, everything seems dull and regimented, but I don’t know how to bring it back.

Two weeks ago I decided that if I can’t improve the situation with my cousin, I can improve myself.  I would become a "smiler" and a "greeter", someone who brings peace wherever they go and not that annoying absentmindedness and aloofness that can ruin your day.  So I push against the humdrum and any lingering bad mood and give a nice greeting to the people I walk by, or to the clerks in stores.  I smile.  People smile back.  Hopefully they then smile at the next person they see, and we all have a day that’s just a little bit easier.

It’s been working so far, too.  In the beginning I had to remind myself of each greeting and each smile, and now I find it coming more naturally.  I feel more positive in general, and there is now room in my schedule for a quick conversation or an extra hug for my kids while listening about their days.  The kids must feel it too because they are also smiling more and they too have been saying hi to the crossing guard.  Last Thursday when I picked the kids up my six year old said, “Hi Mommy!  How was your day?”  It felt good, and it felt extra good to know that by saying things like that I might give other people that same good feeling.

In the darkness of my attempted slumber I begin to think.  To be greeted by a stranger is lovely.  To be greeted by a family member, voluntarily and not just out of obligation, is gold.  My cousin does not want to talk to me.  But I can text her, something short.  Before I change my mind I grab for my phone on my nightstand and quickly type out, “Good morning, Kayla.  Have a good day."  I put down the phone without sending it, but I still sleep better than I have in months.

My alarm wakes me at 6:30 as usual.  When I unplug my phone on the way out of my room I call up the text screen, take a deep breath, and hit send.  I go about my day, my smile a bit brighter, but when I lay down again that night there has been no reply.  I am angry, and then I am not.  It hasn’t helped me so far, right?  I whisper a quick request to HaShem and again type, “Hope your yesterday was OK.  Have a good today.”  In the morning I send it.

Two hours later as I’m leaving the kids’ school, my phone vibrates.  I pull over to read it.  She has written, “You too.”

I don’t think it will be so hard to smile today.

Pirkay Avos:

"רבי מתיא בן חרש אומר:  ×”וי מקדים בשלום כל אדם...." 

"Rabi Chasyar ben Charash omer:  He'vay makdim b’shlom kol adam..."

"Rabi Elazar ben Shamu'a says:  Be the first to greet every individual"(Perek Daled, Mishna Chaf).

The mishna states, “Be the first to greet any individual.”  The commentators add that R’ Masya learned this from his teacher, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, “whom no one ever greeted first” (B'rachos 17a).  Abaye elaborates that “a person should always…turn aside wrath and increase peace with his brothers, relatives, and (all) men…so that he will be beloved in heaven and on earth, and accepted by people” (B'rachos 17a).

This mishna is stated as a guide to improving our own moral composition.  We should greet others first because that constitutes proper and ethical behavior.  Maharsha implies that we are indeed halachicly obligated to extend greetings to others, unless we feel that they may not respond.

The Midrash Sh'muel offers another explanation of the phrase, “every individual”.  We should even greet people whom we consider to be our enemies.  “seek peace and pursue it,"  states David HaMelech (T'hillim 34:15):  seek and pursue peace even when it flees from you.

Moreover, in his P'ri Chaim, R' Avraham Chaim of Zlotchov points out that the mishna literally states, “Be first with (presenting) peace to all men.”  This implies that it is speaking not merely about saying peace (i.e. a greeting of Shalom A'lai'chem, peace be onto you, or the equivalent), but about creating peace.  If you are in a contentious relationship with someone else, the mishna says, do not wait for him to appease you.  Take the initiative in making overtures of peace, and over time he will most likely respond favorably.

(Reproduced from Rav Lau on Pirkei Avos and from Pirkei Avos with Ideas and Insights of the Sfas Emes and other Chassidic Masters, with permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd.)

Discussion Question Options:

What does the mishna mean when it tells us to greet someone?  What are different ways and opportunities to do so?

What is the power of a greeting?

How can we use greetings to increase shalom in our own lives and those of the people around us?

Stretch of the Week:

Greet or contact a family member or neighbor who you would otherwise not reach out to.


Stretch Of The Week