I spent this past Shabbat (the first of the second month of my Sabbatical) at North Suburban Synagogue Beth El of Highland Park, IL. The Assistant Rabbi, Michael Schwab, led a brief study session on Pirke Avot after Shabbat Minha.
“אֱמוֹר מְעַט וַעֲשֵׂה הַרְבֵּה וֶהֱוֵוי מְקַבֵּל אֶת כָּל הָאָדָם בְּסֵבֶר פָּנִים יָפוֹת”
“Shammai said: … Say little and do much; “Greet everybody cheerfully” (Avot 1:15)
Rabbi Schwab observed that Shammai’s directive is an important part of how we embody Torah. First of all, an embodied Torah is a Torah of action. Whether we’re talking about ritual or ethical mitzvot, our Torah is expressed with our bodies. Shammai encourages us to spend more time engaged in the action of Torah, and less time engaged in non-Torah talk. Second, Shammai saw every human interaction as the opening up of a moment of opportunity to affect another person. It doesn’t take many words — just a smile and perhaps the person’s name brings warmth and joy into the world. What better way to embody Torah!