Yisroel Green was the undisputed leader of his shiur
in yeshiva. His kindness and consideration towards his
classmates influenced everyone around him: An atmosphere of
spirituality and love of learning surrounded him.
"Yisroel," they asked him one day, with a tinge of envy, "Can
you pinpoint one particular cause of your success in
acquiring good middos and overcoming the bad ones?"
Yisroel did not answer for a long moment, then he looked in
the direction of the aged Rosh Yeshiva, and murmured
emotionally, "My gandfather. He is the one who cultivated and
strengthened my character and encouraged me when things were
difficult. It is easier to learn the whole of Shas
than to change one bad trait, but whenever I felt
discouraged, I saw him with his permanent kindly smile, which
never faltered for a moment. This smile encouraged me all my
life and helped me to strive for greater perfection."
The students gazed at their venerable Rosh Yeshiva with
admiration. He returned their look and seemed to caress them
with his eyes. He stood up, his smile even broader than
usual. "Boys," he said, in his strong voice, "My friends, you
are giving me more admiration than I deserve. Let me tell you
a short story:
More than fifty-five years ago, a little boy of ten was
incarcerated in the concentration camp where the fiend
Mengele conducted his "experiments." Like hundreds of other
children, the boy had been cruelly separated from his
parents, and was now a human guinea pig. They operated on the
facial muscles around his mouth, ostensibly to discover if a
human being can smile forever. The child cried bitterly,
without a trace of tears; they had frozen his tear ducts, but
his mouth continued to smile. When the scars had healed, the
accursed Nazi took photos of his 'protege' from every angle,
to send around the world, to show how happy the children were
in his care. No one could tell that the smile had been
forcibly contrived with a scalpel.
The war ended and the child survived.
A shudder swept through the beis hamedrash as Rav
Green continued his story. "Yes, I was that little boy. You
can see the permanent smile, which I can never remove, etched
on my face." Yisroel knew that this was the first time that
his grandfather had ever revealed this story from his
He went on reminiscing:
Among the melancholy dejected crowds who had survived hell
and disconsolately tried to trace some relative, a smile was
a rare phenomenon. Yet I, Yehoshua Green, smiled and smiled
ceaselessly, all my waking hours. There were those who kept
their distance, thinking that my mind was unhinged because of
all the horrors I had suffered. Others thought that I had
become dehumanized, without any feelings of compassion for my
fellow sufferers. They were unable to trace a single living
relative of mine and nobody could understand that even this
sad fact could not make a child cry. They did not know that I
was maimed and mutilated.
I began to walk with my face downcast, so that people should
not see my smile. My spirit was broken when I finally arrived
in Eretz Yisroel, with a group of other refugees. Divine
Providence led me to Rav Kupperman, an erstwhile Rosh Yeshiva
"What ails you my boy, that you walk so bent and are so
utterly desolate?" His kindly concern broke my self-imposed
silence and I told him the whole story, about the accursed
Mengele and about my useless facial muscles. The Rav listened
in silence and then asked, "Is there no way to reverse the
"If only there were," I wept silently, "I feel terrible." Rav
Kupperman promised to find out if there was any possibility
of surgical intervention. For two weeks I carried a glimmer
of hope in my heart, filled with euphoria. I knew that
American and French doctors went out of their way to help
refugees. But Heaven decreed otherwise. When the Rav answered
evasively day after day, I understood that there was no way
to remove the smile.
One day I called out in a broken voice, "What is to become of
me? What am I to do?" Rav Kupperman rested a gentle hand on
my shaking shoulders, "My son," he spoke like a father to me,
"if you use your disability to encourage people, to make them
happy and smile too, the time will come when your handicap
will become a blessing."
I remember that he wiped a tear from his eye as he spoke. My
face continued to bear the smile you know so well. The smile
with which I faced all vicissitudes in my life. The smile
with which I raised anyone who was feeling down, and helped
them overcome their problems. With this same smile I revised
pages of gemora, and became a genuine yeshiva
bochur, under the guidance of Rav Kupperman.
This evening you gave me an accolade which I ill deserve. It
is time to give credit where credit is due. Who is
responsible for the great influence my smile has had on
dozens, if not hundreds of people?
An electric silence filled the air as the spell bound boys
waited for his revelation.
"My Torah, and yours, and the Torah of this grandson here and
of all my other grandchildren, are all hers. The merit of
Soroh Rochel, my late wife."
In Poland straight after the war.
In the corner of the women's section of the small dusty shul,
Soroh Rochel had a ramshackle bed of sorts. She had no father
or mother, nor any other relative. She was just another of
the thousands of Holocaust survivors. Her tears drenched the
open pages of the Tehillim in her hands as she prayed, "I
want to marry a talmid chochom like my father, a
tzaddik like my grandfather, I want to add another
link to the illustrious chain of my family."
Mindel the cleaner, a woman in her mid-fifties, tried to help
some of the refugees. In particular, she took Soroh Rochel
under her wing as if she were her daughter. "Dry your eyes,
maidele," she said one day, "I have the perfect match
for you. Ahrele the porter; he is tall and efficient and will
make you a good husband. He makes a good living . . . What
do you say Soroh Rochel? Shall I start looking for some white
material for a wedding dress?"
Soroh Rochel did not answer. Her pinched, jaundiced face had
a mulish expression. No, Ahrele, although famous among all
the displaced refugees as a go-getter, someone who was
pulling himself up by his own shoe laces, was not the boy she
wanted to marry. She wanted a house of Torah, as she
remembered her own home. She was looking for a man who would
be engrossed in his learning all day.
Thus she continued to weep and to pray, but Mindel was not so
easily put off. "Soroh Rochel, in these days straight after
the war, it is incumbent on every survivor to set up a home
as soon as possible. Forget your ideas! Where do you think
you will find the boy of your dreams?"
Soroh Rochel did not reply. She knew that if her father were
alive, he would have understood, and helped her. But she was
completely alone in the world. One day, when Rav Kupperman
arrived at the Displaced Persons camp to hearten the
refugees, she poured out her heart to him. He listened to
each word intently, and then suggested, "I have a boy in my
Yeshiva who is a perfect gem. He is a lamdan and a
masmid and I imagine he is also looking for a
shidduch." Soroh Rochel's face brightened.
"Unfortunately," continued the Rav, "he is handicapped." Her
spirits fell. Why should she marry a handicapped boy? "The
boy was mutilated by Mengele, and has a permanent smile on
"What is wrong in marrying a boy who is always smiling?"
countered the bewildered girl.
"Other people think differently. They think he is unhinged,
mentally deficient, lacking in all human sentiments. They
keep their distance from him. I wonder if you could cope with
the ostracism, and with this deformity?"
Soroh Rochel tossed and turned in her bed that night, and
then decided. She would marry Yehoshua Green. Mindel the
cleaner did not sew a wedding gown for her. Mindel sobbed and
tried to dissuade her. "They all say he is unbalanced. All he
does is learn all day. What will you live on?" Soroh Rochel
smiled calmly. She relied on Rav Kupperman's judgment.
"All these years," the Rosh Yeshiva concluded, "she stood by
me and together we raised a tribe of wonderful children and
grandchildren. It is to her that I owe my genuine smile."