While necessary, wearing a mask is miserable. It is difficult to breath comfortably with a mask on and it is even harder to deliver a speech. And yet, those aren’t the hardest parts for me. Countless times over the last few months I find myself spotting someone across the Shul or in a store, smiling at them and wondering why they aren’t smiling back or acknowledging my bid for connection. Each time it takes a moment to remember that they aren’t ignoring me and it isn’t their fault. They never saw my smile because of the mask that covers half my face.
Being deprived of the ability to exchange smiles is a relatively small price to pay for protecting one another and preserving our collective health, but make no mistake, the lost smiles are also unfortunate casualties of this pandemic.
We need to smile and be smiled at. In complimenting and blessing Yehuda, Yaakov says, “His teeth are whiter than milk.” Of all virtues, why is Yaakov highlighting Yehuda’s teeth? The Gemara (Kesubos 111b) explains that Yaakov saw a quality in Yehuda he greatly admired and benefited from. Yehuda had a habit of smiling, of flashing the white of his teeth when seeing others. Indeed, the Gemara concludes when a person shows the white of his teeth to another by smiling widely, it is more beneficial than giving a cup of milk to drink. Why the comparison to milk?
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The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.