Rav Yechezkel Levenstein Z'TL (Letter 208) writes that an absolute prerequisite to come close to Hashem is appropriate dealing and proper conduct with other people. Specifically, he writes that if one makes a point to look for the m'alos, the good qualities, of others and honors them because of these very qualities, 'how close he has come to honoring Hashem.' Rav Shlomo Wolbe Z'TL (Alei Shur 1:118-119) further guides us in this area 'honoring friends is not simply good manners and proper courtesy, but is revealing the honor of a Tzelem Elokim (someone created in Hashem's image). In fact, when Rebbe Eliezer was asked by his students, 'Rebbe, teach us the ways of life so that we will be merit the World to Come', his first response was 'Be careful to honor your friends.'
How can we begin displaying the honor due to another, the honor of his qualities, the honor of his Tzelem Elokim, the honor that will lead us to proper honor of Hashem' the honor that will lead us to true life in the World to Come?
We suggest the following fundamental, initial step. The Orchos Chaim of the Rosh (Paragraph 57) writes that one should not show a sullen face towards others, but rather should greet people with 'panim mei'iros'--a glowing face, a welcoming smile. Indeed, the posuk in Koheles (8:1) states 'Chochmas Odom Ta'ir Panav'-the wisdom of a person brings his face to glow. We may understand this to mean that one who wants to be a wise person, i.e., he wants to attain his purpose in life of d'veikus (cleaving) to Hashem (as clearly explained in Mesilas Yeshorim, Chapter 1), will shine his face to others, for honoring another--his qualities and his Tzelem Elokim--is a very necessary step in drawing close to, and properly relating to, Hashem.
The brocha given by Yaakov to Yehudah (Genesis 49:12) was 'U'leven Shinayim Mei'chalav'-and his teeth white with milk. The Gemara (K'subos 111B) states that the posuk can be read as 'When one shows his teeth by smiling to his fellow man, it is better than giving him milk to drink.' Giving someone milk, with all the essential nourishment it provides, cannot compare to the feeling of humanity and respect given to another Tzelem Elokim with a warm countenance and a nice pleasant smile. We may add that the beneficiary of your smile may likely feel so uplifted that the person, too, may smile to someone elseso your smile may literally progress to many others geometrically.
Rabbi Avigdor Miller Z'TL writes that, in addition to the feeling of respect that a smile engenders, 'The smile enters the recipient's mind and body and stimulates all the glands to produce their secretions in the most beneficial proportions. Every one of the thousands of intricate processes of physical functions is optimally motivated' (Sing You Righteous page 294).
We can now well understand why Yehudah, a leader of his people who was responsible for them, was given this fundamental brocha, and why many of the common pictures of Gedolim show a very pleasant countenance and sincere, warm smiles. Those who recall the special honor-filled manner of Rav Segel Z'TL, Rav Wolbe Z'TL, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach Z'TL, Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky Z'TL, among other Gedolim, will certainly appreciate this point.
Practical Suggestion: Choose a family member, friend or acquaintance and focus on this person's ma'alos-and on his/her Tzelem Elokim. When you see this person, show him respect with a loving face and a warm, meaningful smile, not merely out of common courtesy or even etiquette, but out of a sincere and true desire to properly honor him for his qualities and for his Tzelem Elokim, which, in fact, is such a fundamental first step in our drawing close to Hashem Himself, and realizing our own purpose in life.
Reprinted with permission from Hakhel MIS