Kavod/Respect - Lesson 4 - Compliments

One of the greatest gifts we can give or receive is a compliment. Compliments validate others and infuse life into people. We all want to feel noticed and appreciated, and a person needs to feel his presence makes an impact. Compliments should be




Last week’s stretch of the week was:  Accept feedback or new ideas from another person as an opportunity to grow instead of viewing it as unwanted criticism.

Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute. 


Lesson #4





“Who is an honorable person?  One who honors others” (Pirkai Avos 4:1).  One’s willingness and ability to honor others reflects his inner sense of self-kavod.  When one is insecure, it is most difficult for him to validate others.  Through working on acquiring self-kavod, we will be able to have the strength to honor others.  However, we must know that the reverse is also true.  If we push ourselves to honor and praise others, we will begin to feel more self-kavod.

“External actions inspire and arouse internal reaction” (based on Mesilas Yesharim Chapter 7).  A person’s thoughts and emotions pull along his actions, and the reverse effect is true as well.  When we act one way, even if we don’t feel that way now, we actually begin to feel that way.  Therefore, when we act in the honorable fashion of praising others, we become more honorable on the inside.  Furthermore, there is a wonderful feeling of satisfaction and greatness in giving someone else encouragement and good feelings.  We are utilizing our lives to enhance the lives of others, which is part of man’s primary role in life.

One of Rabbi Moshe Don Kestenbaum’s students once asked him: “If man’s role is to help others, how then could our Sages tell us that one is obligated to say, ‘the world was created for me’?  He answered simply:  “The world was created for me--in order to provide me the opportunity to help others.”

One of the greatest gifts we can give or receive is a compliment.  Compliments validate others and infuse life into people.  We all want to feel noticed and appreciated, and a person needs to feel his presence makes an impact.  Compliments should be honest and personalized. 

Indirect compliments are often powerful.  When we seek someone’s advice or counsel, we are demonstrating our regard for his opinion.  When we ask for a recipe, we reflect true appreciation for someone’s food.

We must learn to appreciate and understand a compliment’s significance and impact.  Much more important than making a person temporarily feel good, it is the key to his discovery of gifts and talents hidden within him.  Anyone who has put his talent to good use is forever indebted to all those who have pointed out his abilities along the way.  If a famous public speaker stopped receiving positive feedback and wasn’t hired for speaking engagements, wouldn’t he be forced to assume he has lost his touch?  For this reason, we should always be generous with our compliments, even to someone who already has a lot going for him.

Parenthetically, it is not proper to openly reject another person’s compliment.  If he put himself out to try to give you encouragement, don’t shove it back in his face.  It is only appropriate to smile and say “thank you” as you would if someone gave you a gift.

(Reproduced from Run After the Right Kavod by Rabbi Moshe Don Kestenbaum, with permission of the author and copyright holders, Israel Bookshop Publications).


Story:  (based on a true story)

There was a woman in my weekly class who thought she didn’t know anything.  We’d both been going for years, and I’d seen Karen listen closely and take careful notes, drawing in every word.  Like the rest of us, she sometimes asked questions.  Unlike the rest of us, hers usually started with a self-denigrating “This is probably a stupid question…” or “This may be obvious to everyone else…”  Our teacher responded with, “That’s actually a really good question” and the like, but it continued.  Karen had a late-start Judaic studies background and always seemed to feel that she was catching up and therefore very limited.

It bothered me a lot that this amazing seeker didn’t see the beauty of her questions the way I did.  I was involved with an outreach organization when I was a teenager, and the questions that the girls around me would ask were about amazingly deep issues I had never given much thought to.  As I listened to the teachers give these girls their answers, I also gained.  I gained the answers, and I gained the confidence to ask any question to the right person, because “lo ha'by'shan lo'maid”, the embarrassed person doesn’t learn.  You need to ask to get the answer that will propel you on, and the act of asking itself means you are smart enough to try to find out what you don’t know and to delve deeper into Torah.

Karen had figured out how to ask the questions; she asked enough through the years to find the beauty and strength in Judaism and to raise five wonderful kids within the Jewish community, planning and coordinating various synagogue events along the way and constantly trying to increase her knowledge of all things Torah.  But somehow, she still felt inferior.  I had to do something to help her, but what?  How do you get at someone’s core of confidence?

I figured the truth would work.  One of my best friends in high school was a girl from the outreach group I was involved with.  She was slowly strengthening her observance of Shabbos as our friendship developed, and I regularly told her how much she inspired me to work on myself, and she would say the same to me, each in our own way.  Together, we grew and grew, because the more we each encouraged growth in the other, the more we valued it in ourselves.  Maybe Karen needed some of the same.  Didn’t she inspire me as well?

The next time Karen leaned over and quietly asked me a question during a discussion at our class, I truthfully told her that I thought it was a really good question and I also wanted to know the answer.  She then asked it out loud, without a self-denigrating qualifier.  She received an answer that many people listened to closely and seemed to appreciate.

After the class, I explained to her, again truthfully, that I really appreciated her asking the question because I loved both finding a new question and hearing the answer.  I never would have thought to ask because I’ve been looking at the same ideas since I was seven, so I took for granted that what I was taught in the second grade was the whole story.  Because Karen had a fresh eye, the whole room was able to gain a deeper understanding of the topic and learn new lessons.  I thanked her for her fresh and analytical eye as well as her need to get to the truth of everything, and along with a couple of other women, we discussed the topic prompted by her question for several more minutes before taking our leave.

After that, Karen continued to ask her questions, slowly dropping her trademark, “This might be stupid” introduction, and I continued to take the time to tell her whenever I thought she had made an insightful contribution and to discuss it with her.  I heard more confidence in her voice, as she brought up some things she had learned in Hebrew school when she was young or from her experience of raising observant children as someone who was not always and asked about them.  And then something else wonderful happened.  A woman who had been sitting quietly across the room for about a year began chipping in as well, contributing observations based on her upbringing in the former Soviet Union and asking basic and not-so-basic questions to clarify things.  The whole room learned some remarkable things.

I was amazed at what a couple of compliments could do.  I was floored by the impact of genuine expressions of appreciation for what Karen, with all of her background and inclinations, can contribute to those around her.  All I had to do was notice and then say what I was thinking.  I carry around a powerful tool every day; I need to make sure to use it.


Discussion Question Options:

What are some ways that complimenting others help to build them up?

How has reaching out to compliment or validate another person helped you personally?

We must be careful how we compliment someone and how we receive compliments.  What are some important factors to keep in mind?

Stretch of the Week:

Notice a strength in someone and compliment them on it.


Stretch Of The Week