We are here to improve our relationships with others
in order to transform the Jewish people in these urgent times.
Last week’s stretch of the week was: Make it a point to verbally wish others well this week.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
Flattery of a Sinner -- Issur Chanufa
Anyone who sees another Jew violating an issur and flatters him, whether with words or some gesture that indicates his approval, or even if he remains silent and does not reprove him for the sin, has transgressed not only the mitzvah of tochacha, but also according to some opinions the prohibition of flattery, derived from the passuk: “V’lo Sachanifu es Ho’oretz asher atem bo, Do not sully the land with flattery” (Bamidbar 35:33). By implying that we approve of the sinner’s misdeeds, our allegiance to HaShem comes under question, since a servant cannot love his master if he loves his master’s enemies.
Flattery that is prohibited includes: praising resha’im (wicked ones) or wickedness, praising someone in a way that will cause him to sin or will reinforce his error, “buttering up” someone so that he will trust you and you can then deceive him, and praising your child or other relative when he or she is doing wrong.
But there are times when flattery can be used for constructive purposes. In such cases flattery isn’t only permissible but is even considered a mitzva. For example, we may flatter our spouse in order to promote shalom bayis and flatter our students and colleagues to smooth the way for them to accept our tochacha and, as a result, improve their mitzva observance and Torah study. Flattering a rebbe to get him to teach you Torah is also clearly for a positive purpose. It is also permitted to flatter a creditor to stop him from exerting pressure on us, and to flatter the rich, even if it is purely for the sake of gaining benefit from them.
However, as a general rule it is advisable to stay away from flattery. In fact, even though we may praise a person lavishly when he is not present, we should avoid praising him too much in his presence, even if we mean every word we say, because to others our words may appear as empty flattery.
A habit related to flattery that should also be avoided is hypocrisy. The hypocrite makes a false show of being a tzaddik or a talmid chacham, when inside he is in fact far from that image. Similarly, a person should not say one thing when he means another. (Mishpetei Hashalom 10:7-8)
(Excerpts from The Code of Jewish Conduct by Rabbi Yitzchok Silver)
Story: (based on a true story)
I was standing in line waiting to buy school supplies for my children in a store frequented by most of the families in our community when I overheard a loud conversation between a few mothers discussing their children’s newly assigned teachers.
“Can you believe my daughter has THAT teacher? I can’t imagine she’d be able to control this class,” one mother exclaimed.
“Well I guess you didn’t hear who my son’s rebbe is. Just our luck!” another answered.
Being new in the community I had a deep desire to feel a part of the action. I wanted to feel a part of this conversation, especially since this was something that involved me and my children. I imagined that being included in this chat would supply me with a feeling of being one of the “in” crowd. I believed that their opinion would and could cause ripple effects throughout the community’s opinions. With this faulty thought process I made the mistake of blurting out,
“Well, I think my daughter has the youngest teacher in the school, Miss Blank. Such a little teeny bopper! How in the world could she possibly know how to control a class with no experience?”
Within seconds, all the so called ‘important women’ looked over at me and emitted an audible groan or odd giggle. They then turned and continued on their merry way selecting their childrens’ pencils, notebooks and rulers. Lesson #21
As I waited in line to pay for my children’s supplies I watched as all the other women chatted and laughed together again. I stood there feeling alone. I wished I was a part of their conversation. I wished I was accepted by them as one of the crowd. But then I asked myself, what price am I willing to pay for that feeling of acceptance? I attempted to join their conversation by joining in with ridiculing and making fun of teachers just to fool myself into feeling like I was one of them. Is this what I should stoop to do? I knew deep down inside myself that I didn’t need to be a part of a social circle that talks behind others’ backs. I would never feel at ease listening or speaking with such people – who am I kidding? I don’t need to connect myself to people who are doing something wrong and join them just so I can feel like I have friends?
Later, I did feel a tinge of guilt about my immature slip, so I decided to phone an old wise friend to discuss the issue. After an hour of complaining about not having any friends and wanting terribly to feel I belonged, my good buddy successfully pointed out to me that I may want to re-assess my model for achieving true friendship. When she illustrated that to try to connect with other women through complaining, accusing, expressing dissatisfaction, and kvetching, it became so obvious that this wasn’t the appropriate way to achieve fulfillment in friendship - or any good standing in the community. To be a truly strong individual means to stand up to your values and beliefs and not sell yourself short even when feeling low and in need.
I reflected upon other incidents in which I most likely fall prey to this concept such as ridiculing the Rav’s speech on Shabbos with a group of women or joining others to bitterly complain about tuition – even though I fully understood the need for this rate, all just to be part of the “inner circle gab”. I am embarrassed to admit it, but I have rolled my eyes when an annoying neighbor would demand something in front of others to show whose side I was really on. I know that it is only HaShem that I truly need to worry about impressing and that true friendship will come my way when I stick to the high standards I have for myself. Then He will send me the friends that will feel just right, as He knows exactly what I need.
Discussion Question Options:
How do you differentiate between sincere praise and insincere flattery?
When is it appropriate to flatter people for spiritual reasons?
In what ways do people lose by using flattery?
Stretch of the Week:
Give someone a well meaning compliment without any other motivation than to perform the mitzva of loving another Jew.