The Gemara says that one who smiles to his friend is better than one who feeds him. This teaches that showing simcha at seeing someone gives him more joy than providing gashmius. The Gedolim spoke very strongly about the importance of smiling. The Alter of Slobodka said that someone who walks in public with a gloomy face is like a ’bor bereshus harabim’ (a hole in a public area) - when he is in public he has no right to force others to see his gloomy face. Moreover, he saw an inability to smile a negative mida; a senior talmid from a famous yeshiva in Poland stopped by in Slobodka on his way back from Lithuania. The Alter told him several times to smile. The talmid, who had been trained all his life to be serious and tense, could not change his habit, and did not smile. The Alter regarded this as a serious character flaw and refused to allow his grandson to cross the border in the company of that talmid.
In a similar vein, the Sefer Yireim writes that just as there is an issur of onaas devarim, causing pain with hurtful words, so too there is a form of ‘onaah’ in showing an unhappy face. One may argue that there is a requirement of yiras shamayim that seems to contradict the requirement to be constantly smiling. The Gedolim also dealt with this issue at length. In short their maskana is that a person should internally feel an element of seriousness about life, but externally they must show happiness. Rav Yitzchak Blazer zt”l brings a story from his Rebbe, Rav Yisroel Salanter zt”l to show just how important it is to avoid letting one’s own coved rosh effect other people. One Erev Yom Kippur, Rav Salanter was walking to shul for Kol Nidrei. Whilst walking he turned to speak to someone he knew, but the person was in the midst of aimas hadin and did not reply. Rav Salanter commented, “why should I suffer because of his aimas hadin?!”
We have seen how there is a clear obligation to show warmth in our interactions with our fellow man and that by doing so we can give him a true sense of self-worth. How can a person strive to improve in this vital area of avodas Hashem? Sifsei Chaim suggests that in the area of smiling, we should utilize the principle that our external actions effect our internal being. Therefore a person should try to smile even if he doesn’t feel in the state of mind to do so. By showing an expression of simcha, he should begin to feel genuine simcha in his heart. In the area of greeting one’s fellow, it is recommended to notice anyone in our neighbourhood who doesn’t seem to know many people and to try to befriend them. This applies especially to new members of the Kehilla who naturally feel unknown and unimportant in their new neighbourhood. But it is even worthwhile to say a friendly word to anyone in the community with whom we have thus far not made any effort to do so.
May we all be zocheh to treat our fellow in the way that he deserves.