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Rabbi Wes Kalmar's Sermon - Parshat Ki Teitzei - 9 elul 5780

"Smile!  You're on Covid Camera!"

There is a bit of a mantra in our house with ourselves in our kids – when they seem to be dragging around as teenagers are wont to do – we tell them “SMILE!” and we get back a [token sarcastic ‘I’m not really smiling’ smile]. 
But it turns out we were right.  Groundbreaking research from the University of South Australia confirms what we’ve been making our kids do for years – just the act of smiling can trick your mind into being more positive.
The study, published in Experimental Psychology, induced participants to smile by making them answer questions while they had a pen in their teeth – forcing them to move the same muscles that one uses for a smile.  The participants who were made to smile while answering saw the people whom they viewed for the study in a much more positive way.  Lead researcher Dr. Fernando Marmolejo-Ramos said "When your muscles say you're happy, you're more likely to see the world around you in a positive way,”   This has big implications for this period of COVID-19 when studies have shown that depression and anxiety are on the rise in significant numbers around the world.  As Dr. Marmoleho-Ramos put it  "A 'fake it 'til you make it' approach could have more credit than we expect."
The Torah tells us in our parsha -

כי תצא מחנה על איביך ונשמרת מכל דבר רע.

When you go forward in camp against your enemies, you shall guard yourself from every evil thing.
 
Why do those going out to war need a warning to keep the mitzvos?  Don’t all people need to keep the mitzvos all the time?   The Ramban answers and says that the Torah is warning people against sin in a time where sin is found.  And that we know that people in wartime are sometimes likely to eat anything and act in a more haphazard way – stealing, force, violence, rape and all types of immoral behavior often accompany soldiers during wartime – a time when all rules seem to be suspended.  Therefore the Torah gives them a special warning and direction – be careful not to do anything wrong – keep the mitzvos.   Times may be strange – but do not go away from your keeping of the mitzvos.  They will save you from straying.
 
The Sefer HaChinuch develops a famous concept (Mitzvah 16) “Acharei HaPeulos Nimshachim HaLevavos” – the heart is dragged after one’s actions.   Do the mitzvos – even if you have to fake it to make it.  Sometimes we feel like “Why am I doing this?”  “What is the purpose of it all?”  But during this period of time – the details – doing the little things – can make all the difference.  Many of us may be struggling with our religious rituals and our religious spirit – but the way to get it going again is to do all the little things – even when we’re not feeling it – seeing is not believing.  Doing is believing. 
 
Parshat Ki Teitzei has 74 mitzvot in it – more than any other parsha – God is telling us – do the mitzvot – keep all the details – your heart will follow after them.
 
And while we might feel like its really hard to smile as this COVID era drags on into its 6th month – and we might feel we don’t have to – with a mask on – no one can tell anyway.  But the smile is for us – it really works – so SMILE.  And Do the Mitzvos.  And keep smiling.  It really works – and not just for teenagers.  SMILE and you will feel better.

Mon, March 8 2021 24 Adar 5781