by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"Red eyed from wine, and white toothed from milk." [49:12]
Rabbi Yochanan says in the Talmud [Kesubos 111b] that we learn
homiletically from this verse that someone who smiles graciously at his
friend is better than one who gives him milk to drink -- a change of a
vowel turns "white toothed" to "whitens his teeth," which is "from", or
greater than, milk.
The message is very clear -- one of the greatest things that we can do for
a person is to help him or her to be happy. It is interesting that despite
the diversity of the English language, it lacks an appropriate translation
for "m'sameyach," which comes from the root "simcha," meaning happiness or
gladness. We do not speak about "gladdening" others around us; the best we
can do is to "make them happy," which sounds like manufacturing an emotion.
And the truth is that "happiness" really isn't an accurate translation for
"simcha." Simcha runs much deeper than happiness. If you hear a comedian
make jokes, then you may be happy for little while, but "simcha" reflects a
much more profound inner peace.
When we look around us, we realize that it is not only the English language
which lacks "simcha." We live in a generation which could only be described
as depressed. People run around looking for "entertainment," so they sit in
front of televisions seeing the smiling happy faces of actors who are
themselves extraordinarily prone to drugs and suicide. They go to
therapists, and again psychology is a career rumored to carry a high risk
of suicide -- because they spend their days listening to other people's
horrible problems, and all too often they have little to offer them!
Yet the Torah itself is a solution. Psalm 19 says "The laws of G-d are
straight, delighting the heart." When a person studies Torah, learns a new
insight, or hears an inspiring class, the he or she is happier -- often
immediately, visibly so. A person carries away a true lesson for life, not
a few jokes which dissipate once all co-workers and friends know the punch
By studying Torah, one makes him or herself into a repository of happiness
which can indeed be shared with others. Those who study Torah make the best
therapists, because they have deep, spiritual insights to offer, reaching
into eternal Jewish wisdom for an understanding of human nature. And
because they have "stocked up" on happiness, troubles shared by others
cannot overwhelm and defeat them.
Let us learn to turn to Torah, and to those who learn Torah, for our
support, and let us become a support, a source of happiness, for others!
Dedicated on the yahrtzeit of Nechama Shifra bas Meshulam, 11 Teves.