Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11-34:35)/Parshat ParahThe Language of Smile

 Smiles are a way of gaining people’s trust. When we meet someone and they have a smile on their face, we are much more likely to trust them than if they have a stern face or some other appearance. The obvious question is, we all know that it is easy to fake a smile; how do we know that the smile we encounter is one that we can trust and not just a ruse to earn our trust? Researchers  studying this issue, developed a concept called “engaged smiling.” This type of smiling doesn’t come about spontaneously. It comes from a concerted effort to try to pay attention to the people this individual is interacting with. There are clear physical signs associated with this type of smile (known as Duchene markers). The researchers then tested their theory by having participants play a trust game. They found a strong correlation between engaged smiling and trust. One of the most complex questions relating to the Sin of the Golden Calf is why the esteemed Aaron, brother of Moses, participated in making it. Rashi and, in more detailed fashion, R. Yosef Bechor Shor (12th century) give us insight into Aaron’s motives. Moses didn’t return when (they thought) he was supposed to and the people panicked; they desperately wanted a new leader to replace him. Aaron knew that Moses would return and when he did, there would be a huge rift within the Jewish community. Aaron therefore came up with a plan that would help stall the process. He asked for gold from the women knowing that they would hesitate to give it. The idea for Golden Calf was a stall tactic but it failed. Aaron didn’t believe that the people would actually turn it into a deity. We might frame Aaron’s actions as follows. He understood that he had a seemingly unsolvable dilemma and knew that capitulating to their request for a new leader was not an option but he also knew that rejecting them outright was not going to be effective. He chose to earn their trust and use it to delay the situation. How did he earn that trust? He actively engaged with the people by taking an interest in their needs. Thousands of years before “engaged smiling” Aaron understood the need to take a bonafide interest in people’s needs–even when they conflicted with his own. When we take a sincere interest into the needs of other people— whether through our smile or through our actions— they are able to detect and react to it. The benefit is not limited to building trust, it also allows us to truly help others in a sincere, compassionate manner although it may not work out as we would have liked it to. May we all bear this in mind the next time we sincerely smile because it will be an indication that we have the ability to come out of ourselves by listening to and feeling for someone other than ourselves, which is one of the main goals of being Jewish. Good Shabbos Parshat Parah 5781-2021 (Numbers 19:1-22) The Ability to be Independent AND Accept Support When we partner with others in attempting to achieve a goal, whether it’s school, fitness, or eating, our peers can be invaluable in helping us to keep on task of achieving those goals. Anyone who has joined a fitness class or wears a Fitbit, knows the value of having others with similar goals participating in the same activities. However, a fascinating study published in Stanford’s Graduate Business School Journal shows that as we near our goal, we tend to abandon our friends and try to finish alone. Why? As we get close to the end, we turn our efforts into a competition. Not only do we not rely on our peers but we also engage in efforts that sabotage their success.
This week is the third of the special Torah readings (read along with the weekly Parsha) before Passover. The topic is the Parah Adumah, Red Heifer. It involves the process of purification necessary when one comes in contact with a dead body. Thousands of years ago when the Temple stood, people came early to Jerusalem to purify themselves in time for Passover. This enabled them to offer and eat the Pascal Lamb (Passover offering). The Parah Adumah, Red Heifer, process is mysterious and has much symbolism. It would purify the impure and render the pure impure. It was a female perfectly red cow, slaughtered and burned to make ashes for purifying persons and objects who had come in contact with a corpse. Although this topic seems cryptic and even weird, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (1903-1993) finds a practical application as it relates to understanding ourselves when seeking to achieve goals.
The formula for purifying oneself after coming in contact with a corpse has two distinct procedures; immersion in a mikvah, something the person does on their own, through their own initiative. But there is a second procedure, (s)he is sprinkled with water combined with the ashes of the Parah Adumah, Red Heifer. This sprinkling cannot be done on oneself, but rather they need someone else to do it for them. Ordinary impurities can be cleansed with one’s own initiative but one who has come in contact with death, which Rav Soloveitchik defines as “existential ugliness,” requires both personal initiative and help from others. It represents a deeper issue, one that can’t simply be solved by one’s own actions.
We all encounter goals we can handle on our own but others that require outside support. If we become too caught up in our need for independent success and as a result turn friends away, it will be much harder to cross the finish line. Even though we think we have advanced far enough and can do the rest on our own, it is the support of others that ultimately gets us to the end. We need to believe in ourselves to move on in life but at the same time, we need humility so that we might acknowledge the need for others.    (Chumash Mesoras HaRav, Numbers 19:19)