Halacha Date: 17 Tevet 5784 December 29 2023
From HaGaon Rav Zevadia HaCohen Shlit”a, The Head of the Batei Din in Tel Aviv
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
The Power of a Good Word
In the weekly Parashah, Yaakov Avinu gathered his sons and blessed them before he passed away, as the Torah states, “Yaakov called for his sons. [When they came,] he said, ‘Come together, and I will tell you what will happened in the course of time. Come and listen, sons of Yaakov; listen to your father Yisrael’” (Bereishit 49:1).
After this Yaakov blessed his sons and in the blessing to Yehudah he said, “But his eyes are red from wine, his teeth whiter than milk” (ibid 12). This means that in Yehudah’s portion of land in Eretz Yisrael there will be so many vines and an abundance of wine, until from so much wine drunk, people’s eyes will redden (“his eyes are red from wine”). And likewise, in Yehudah’s portion there will be tremendous, lush pastures for the flocks of sheep with an abundance of milk, until, as it were, from so much milk drunk, people’s teeth will whiten (“his teeth whiter than milk”).
In addition to this explanation our Chachamim explained in Ketubot (101b), the passuk “his teeth whiter than milk”, as follows, Rebbi Yochanan said, “Greater is one who whitens his teeth to his friend than one who gives him milk to drink”. This means, a person who smiles at their friend, (through which they reveal the white of their teeth), and through their smile they light up their face to their friend, and relates to them with a friendly appearance, is greater than a person who gives a glass of milk to their friend. Even though the one who smiled didn’t give anything tangible but just a smile, despite this, the power of a smile and a friendly face is greater than giving a friend a glass of milk.
The straightforward meaning of this is that a person who receives a glass of milk, drinks it and benefits from it, but for that moment only. In contrast, a person who receives a smile and a good word from their friend, receives a sense of fortitude for an extended period of time and the efficacy of a good word endures for a protracted period in the heart of the recipient.
It once happened in B’nei Berak that a rav who was well-known for helping couples will shalom bayit (matrimonial issues), said to one young man who studied in a kollel and who was praying in the Bet Kenesset, “Well done! You succeeded in making shalom bayit in so-and-so’s home, something which I was unsuccessful in for a long time!” That young man was certain that the rav was mistaken and had approached someone of mistaken identity. Therefore he said to the rav, “With respect rav, you are mistaken! I have never been involved in shalom bayit.”
“I am not mistaken,” replied the rav. “Indeed, you did merit to make shalom bayit and I’ll explain how. Some years ago, there was a young yeshiva student who learnt assiduously, you approached his father, tapped him on the shoulder giving him a big smile and said to him, “Ah! What a son you have! What a big matmid! [someone who doesn’t waste time when studying and learns for continuous stretches]. Happy are the parents who merited to bring up such a child!” The young man thought for a few seconds and remembered that indeed this happened.
The rav continued and said to that young man, “Know my friend, that these few words that you said to the father, re-established his shalom bayit. And without intending, you merited to fulfil the great mitzva of establishing peace between a man and his wife.”
The rav explained, “One of the main reasons for an absence of shalom bayit, is the lack of appreciation between the spouses. However, the problem doesn’t commence here. The main cause is that either the man or woman do not value…themselves, their strengths, their talents. And when the person lacks self-worth, he will also not value another.
“The moment that a person feels valued, he recognises his talents and realises them, in turn his spirit is elevated and subsequently it is easier for him to also respect and value other people.
“The rule is that when a person has light in their vision, this light expands all around him, and then he is able to be pleasant to his wife and children and behave to them as he should. And to genuinely feel that his home is the best in the world.
“Many times it happens that if for whatever reason a person is gloomy, and suddenly a friend approaches him and says a good word, gives him a broad smile and gives him a compliment, it can remove him from a deep darkness to great light. Until that moment the person was downcast, depressed and broken spirited, and then he turns to be happy and in good spirits, he displays joy and good spirit to all those in his vicinity. And all through the merit of one good word and one broad smile.”
So we may ask, why is it so difficult to utter a single kind word?
It is incumbent upon us, to praise, to encourage all those around us, whether this is between a husband and wife, or between friends. May we merit to fulfil the adage of Chazal, “Greater is one who whitens his teeth to his friend than one who gives him a glass of milk to drink”.