parsha of the week

Bringing back the majesty of our people


The rules for appointing a king are followed by a few personal restrictions the Torah places on him: he must be an observant Jew with all that entails, and he may not have an excess of horses, money, or wives.

Beyond that, the Torah gives him specific commandments. He must commission a Torah scroll and read it every day, so that he be G-d-fearing and observant. Midrash Tanaim suggest that when he is not busy with other things — his family, his job — this is how he should spend his time. Through his learning, and even more so through his teaching, he will come to fear G-d.

The Alshich notes that the king’s three restrictions parallel the three crowns discussed in Avot and Shemot Rabbah — the crowns of Torah, Kehunah, and Malchut. Torah is the only one open to all, regardless of birth, and is the key to success in the other two. A king or kohen without Torah will be a failure. But someone who acquires Torah has the chance to achieve majesty equal to kehunah and malchut.

The Alshich goes one step further, because there is a fourth crown, that of a good name. This Keter Shem Tov is achieved when people say, “That’s a good man. That’s a good woman. What a cheerful, positive soul. I wish I could be like that.”

He explains that the acquisition of a “good name” comes from the best self-help book in the world, which addresses every character-building skill we might need to achieve it: the Torah.

Shammai famously taught that a person should set a regular time for Torah study. Fascinatingly, in that same list of his top three teachings, he also says to greet everyone with a smile. In other words, maybe the door to majesty begins with being happy.

Avot D’Rabbi Nassan steps up a level: the majestic countenance is achieved through making another person feel good. A person who gives charity with a sour face is counted as having given nothing. But a person who gives nothing but a smile is considered to have given a lot.

Anyone with children and grandchildren knows this. The gifts are nice, but they want to see a smile, to hear how proud we are of them.

How many people tell their adult children that? “Son. Daughter. You work hard. You support yourself, your family. Your children are beautiful. I’m proud of how you are raising them.”

As a mohel, I see many people interact with adult children. In many cases, for example, more than wanting their parents to pay for the bris, all they want from the baby’s grandparents is love and support. Those grandparents say, “I’m here for you. Let me know how I can help.” Or they do what is needed. They get it. They are wonderful. They are loved and appreciated because they love and appreciate.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen the other side as well. Telling the new parents what to do, how to parent, not trusting them to make choices, the mistakes they need to make, the lessons they need to learn from experience. Sadly, some relationships end over these things. Parents write off their children, new parents write off their parents, don’t give them access to the grandchildren. Unfortunate and tragic.

We need to be less critical, more embracing. We have to smile more. Be happier. It will change our lives immeasurably.

Dennis Prager, author of “Happiness is a Serious Problem,” has argued that people have a moral obligation to be happy and bring cheer to others.

We’re not going to do it all the time. It’s an imperfect world, and burnout is possible. But imagine: if we greeted others with a smile, could we leave a room any less cheerful than it was when we entered?

Think of people you know who seem to always have a smile on their faces. Don’t we naturally feel happier, more at ease, when we think of them? Now think about someone who always seem to look miserable. I rest my case.

It’s a life challenge for all of us. If we can greet people with a smile, or even better, with joy, we will achieve majesty. We will be kinglike. We will carry the Keter Shem Tov with pride and dignity.

If we study and know Torah and use it as a guide for moral character development, we will be honored. And if we tell children and grandchildren we believe in them and are proud of them, we will be loved even without giving physical gifts.

Being positive is a challenge, but it is doable. And to be kingly, we must take upon ourselves to do it.