Ki Tavo: Grouchy & The Infectious Smile
We were playing handball against the western wall of Yeshivat Eitz Chaim in Toronto. I clearly remember that it was the western wall because there was a drawing of the Kotel – at that time called the Wailing Wall – posted on the wall. It was 1964 and Jews were unable to access the Kotel. The school posted the drawing so that we would remember and pray for the Western Wall.
The ball went flying behind us into the backyard of the house just next to the school. I was going to climb through the hedges to reclaim my “pinky” ball but everyone yelled, “Stop! You can’t go there. Grouchy lives there!”
Thank God, I listened. Grouchy came flying out the back door just waiting for his next victim to devour!
I noticed that Grouchy had a tattoo of numbers on his arm, just like Ben, the school-bus driver, and most of the teachers and rabbeim. In fact, almost all the parents I knew had similar tattoos. I was jealous because neither of my parents, and none of my grandparents had tattoos. My doctor had one, as did my dentist. The butcher had one, and so did the barber, and my building’s super. It seemed like most adults had numbers. I wondered how old you had to be to get one. After all, my parents were already ancient and they didn’t have numbers. My grandparents were beyond ancient; they were from a different century, and they didn’t get to have tattoos either.
I met Grouchy one day at the bus stop and he was very nice. “Why are you so scared of me?” “Because, you’re so grouchy!”
“You would also be grouchy if you had one of these,” he said pointing to his tattoo. When he saw the blank look in my face, he explained who tattooed him, where and when. I still tear when I remember his story. The Germans tortured and killed his wife and children in front of his eyes before sending him to a place called Treblinka.
Grouchy and I became friends. I asked the other kids to stop calling him Grouchy and retold his story. The most common response was: “My parents’ story is worse and they are not grouchy!”
I thought of Grouchy this morning on my daily walk. There is a man who looks just like Grouchy who never greets any of the other walkers. He refuses to move aside for anyone, despite the unspoken rule that you always walk to the right. I greet him every morning with a big smile and he refuses to acknowledge me. His grouchiness is infectious. It affects my mood.
This morning I saw his tattoo when I past him on my first lap, and remembered Grouchy.
There is another man I see every morning who is the polar opposite. He has the most beautiful smile and he greets everyone. We all call him “Smiley”. He lifts my mood even more than Grouchy ruins it. I passed him just after passing Grouchy and I was so infected by his smile that I decided to try again with my new Grouchy. “Good morning! How are you this wonderful morning?”
He stopped, looked at me, noticed my Curious George t-shirt and laughed. “Good morning to you.” Smiley infected me with his smile and I was finally able to infect Grouchy.
The power of a smile. No wonder God asks us to smile when we serve Him: “Because you did not serve God, your Lord, amid gladness and goodness of heart.” (Deuteronomy 28:47) The bible is describing the most horrible curses and explains that they will come because we are, well, so grouchy when we serve Him!
Imagine if everyone walked around with Smiley’s infectious smile when serving God! Awesome!
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