“The smile…” – Shabbat Kodesh Parshat Vayechi

We will read this week how Yaakov Avinu describes the characteristics of each one of his children, and then gives them his final blessings. As he relates to Yehuda, Yaakov says: 

חַכְלִילִ֥י עֵינַ֖יִם מִיָּ֑יִן וּלְבֶן־שִׁנַּ֖יִם מֵחָלָֽב׃ 

His eyes are darker than wine; His teeth are whiter than milk.

The simple way to read it is that it is a blessing, that there will be plenty of milk available, enough to whiten the teeth of its consumers.  The Gemara however interprets it not so literally but more metaphorically: 

מְסַיַּיע לֵיהּ לְרַבִּי יוֹחָנָן, דְּאָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן: טוֹב הַמַּלְבִּין שִׁינַּיִם לַחֲבֵירוֹ יוֹתֵר מִמַּשְׁקֵהוּ חָלָב, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״וּלְבֶן שִׁנַּיִם מֵחָלָב״, אַל תִּקְרֵי ״לְבֶן שִׁינַּיִם״ אֶלָּא ״לִבּוּן שִׁינַּיִם״.

 “Rav Yochanan said, ‘It is better to whiten one’s teeth to his friend (to smile and show one’s teeth) than to give him milk to drink.’”

Nice. But is it not as important to “give the person in need “Milk“?  If someone is in financial difficulty and approaches us for help, is it better to give him a genuine friendly smile, rather than to assist him? Surely not. However, in the context of Yaakov’s blessings it makes a lot of sense: 

In the Brachot, it is Zevulun who is described as the “finance man” of the tribes. He represents the “international business person” sailing between the world’s trade’s capitals.  Yehuda – is representing Royalty, involved in shaping the legal system, and maintaining efficient government throughout the generations. And so, when Zevulun, the “magnate”, is approached, he must see his main mission to assist with “Milk”, or money. His smile might be (just) a bonus.

However, when Yehuda, the learned scholar, is approached for help. The applicant would be more than delighted to have a friendly smile, and perhaps good advice, rather than getting a humble sum as would be the case.

Best is of course to be able to do both.

Warm regards and Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Chaim Michael Biberfeld