I have seen many video's of gedolei Torah and very often when they greet someone they don't smile or look very excited. This is even when the person comes to the gadol's house.

I wondered how to explain their behavior in light of the Mishna in Avos 1:15 that says: "Greet every human being with sever panim yafos - a cheerful face."

Thus I ask the general question: What are justifiable reasons for a person to consciously not do what this mishna instructs (as many talmidei chachamim seem to not always greet people with panim yafos)?

  • 1
    i've had the opposite experience. maybe you are referring to those who meet lines of hundreds of people in short time spans
    – ray
    Jan 7, 2015 at 18:26
  • I have also seen and experienced firsthand professional panim yafos (so to speak) of gedolei Torah... it could be that the video's I've seen of a lack of panim yafos is like you said, due to their meeting many people at that time. But still, why should that stop them?
    – Gavriel
    Jan 7, 2015 at 18:57
  • Re your recent edit: Your question now seeks justification for consciously not following the mishna. That seems to have little to do with the g'dolim you mention, who may well be doing so unconsciously (assuming they do it).
    – msh210
    Jan 7, 2015 at 19:29
  • @msh210 It is a fine impetus for coming up with the question, whether it deals with the initial issue or not
    – Double AA
    Jan 7, 2015 at 21:44
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    At times "sever panim yafos" would imply that the look shows that they are taking you seriously and considering your problem. If someone comes with a serious problem, you would not want them to smile but to be considering your problem deeply. Jan 7, 2015 at 22:43

2 Answers 2


The mishna you quote says mikable - you translated it as "greet" but i think it is closer to "accept"

I understand it to mean that only when you are mekable someone you need to do it with a beautiful face (maybe the faces of gedolei Torah are always beautiful).

Maybe the reason for a person to consciously not smile or look very excited when they greet or accept people is that they are not greeting or accepting them (they are just dealing with then for other serious reasons, when the person comes to the gadol's house sometime he is not as a guest but for a serious meeting), when they will greet or accept them they will smile (to me when they smile it is a sign that they are accepting you).

ps in a different mishnah it says the bite of a talmid chochom is as one of a snake (so a talmid chochom does not always need to be smiling or looking very excited - some times it is necessary for them to bite, and help you with fearing G-d almighty and ...)


I am accepting @hazoriz's fundamental explanation that the word מקבל means "accept", as a foundation for my expanding on this. The next part of the phrase says את כל האדם which means "all of the person".

I heard this great explanation from my Rav when he was teaching his summer Shabbat Pirkei Avot lesson. It says The person, and not just the word אדם, meaning "person" - that's the word we would expect to see here. By saying the person, it means that that one should view all of each person's character as positive, even if he has flaws, which may be starkly noticeable. Even someone's flaws are to be accepted cheerfully. (Related to this, BTW, is the phrasing of the bracha "Borei Nefashot" where you praise G-d for creating flaws.)

In order to accept all of the person, you have to, of course, greet and meet each individual. As stated, in the above comments, perhaps, in the general context of a large crowd, Gedolim don't appear "cheerful" when addressing the crowd.

However, from personal experience, I met the Lubavicher Rebbe a few times. Even though there was a line of people, I know that he smiled and was cheerful to every person he met. And, BTW, you can see him on several youtube videos, where you can see him greeting everyone cheerfully - he doesn't necessarily need to smile with his teeth showing to make you realize that he is "cheerful". And, even in cases where people have told the Rebbe about "flaws" - they sometimes tell him about things they feel they did wrong, I have seen him (at least on several of the videos) still accept the whole person positively, in support of how I have explained the Mishnah.

Rav Binyamin Kaminetzky, whom I used to see quite often, not only always had a great smile, but had no problem accepting some of my "unusual" religious practices and choices, perhaps what he in his own practice would consider a "flaw". It was never an issue to him.

Conclusion - based on my explanation of the Mishnah, I can't find any justification for anyone - not just Gedolim, to not treat all of the person cheerfully.

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