On Monday evening, October 26, Rabbi Avraham Nissanian, well-known inspirational speaker, delivered a beautiful shiur on Zoom (second in a series) on the subject of giving compliments. It was amazing to learn that something that appears so simple and straightforward as giving compliments has so many halachic ramifications and so many nuances and important concepts to understand. Rabbi Nissanian, on behalf of Eishel Avraham, covered the topic in depth and left the listener well-informed and ready to use this powerful tool to promote harmony in his home, in the workplace, and in the world in general in the best way possible.
Rabbi Nissanian noted, “It looks so easy to compliment, but it is not as easy or light as we think. There is much more to it than meets the eye.”
People offer various excuses for not giving compliments to others: “It’s just not me to give compliments.” “I don’t like to lie.”
We know that when a child performs something simple, we compliment him so much, in order to encourage him to do more. Unfortunately, in adult life, we feel we can’t compliment someone if he doesn’t deserve it. Offering compliments is part of the mitzvah of loving your neighbor as yourself. “There is no person on earth who would not appreciate a compliment.” He urged, “You like compliments, so please give compliments.”
If you belittle or insult someone, the punishment is no portion in the World to Come. “Compliments are vital for continuing harmony in the home, in society, and everywhere.” Hashem created us in His image. The Torah says that Hashem blew a neshamah into Adam to give him life. It says that now Adam was a living person. Onkelos teaches that this means G-d gave Adam the power of speech. “With the power of speech,” Rabbi Nissanian taught, “you give neshamah to another. When you praise someone, you transfer some part of your life to that person.” He reiterated the idea that every person likes to have kavod. People will do a lot to acquire honor. If a person performs a mitzvah with the expectation of receiving honor and does not receive that honor, he might regret what he did. This is very wrong, as then this person loses the mitzvah he performed.
“Compliments are so important in a marriage.” When partners give compliments to each other, this motivates them to want to do more for each other. If they only share negative words or words that are not supposed to be said in the home, then togetherness is absent. In this type of environment, there is no motivation to do more than necessary.
A person who possesses yir’as Hashem must understand the emotional needs of his or her spouse. He or she must do so much to encourage her or him by complimenting. “Compliments bring togetherness.”
If a person wants to build a house, he needs the proper tools. In the same way, to build a home with harmony, the partners need the proper tools, and compliments are a very crucial tool. A spouse may want things done a certain way. The best way to accomplish this is by complimenting your spouse.
“If you want to change something with your partner, complimenting is the key. When you compliment, you cause you and your partner to be one unit.”
When a person criticizes someone, that person right away goes on the defensive. No one likes to be criticized. In order to get anyone to hear your criticism, you must first compliment him. Shlomo HaMelech taught: “Do not rebuke a joker because he will hate you. If you criticize a wise man, he will appreciate what you say, because he knows you do it for his good.”
If we see so many benefits from complimenting, why is it hard to compliment? It could be that we never saw it done when we were growing up. In some cultures, the husband will not compliment the wife. If you grew up in this way, you must try to break this. You have to understand that everyone has emotional needs. Everyone needs to be built up with words of appreciation and praise.
A person might ask, “Why should I compliment? My job is to go out and earn a parnasah, and your job is to run the house and take care of the children.” Rabbi Nissanian noted, “There is no place for appreciation in this case, and this is wrong.”
In an environment where criticism is a way of life, when you do finally offer a compliment it won’t sound genuine. We have two eyes, the Sages teach us. One eye is for us to see the good in everyone, and with the other eye we should see what we have to correct in ourselves. Unfortunately, some people look for ways to criticize others and only see the good in themselves. They may feel that if they bring the other person down then everyone will see how good they are. This is wrong, of course. Sometimes people don’t compliment others because they don’t feel good about themselves.
Rabbi Nissanian taught that a person needs to eat so he won’t grow weak. In the same way, a person needs to be appreciated. If there is a lack of appreciation, this can cause a person to be impatient about other things. This can explain why sometimes a person overreacts. An explosion comes for a little error because he was waiting for a sign of appreciation.
“People do not like to be criticized. If you compliment others, it will prevent them from criticizing you.” When a person feels appreciated, he or she will not look for blemishes in you or your work. “Appreciation prevents criticism.”
It is important to give a proper compliment that encompasses recognition of all that went into a particular act. In addition, you must channel your compliment according to what the other person wants to hear. For example, a rabbi or public figure will appreciate praise for what he does, not for his nice suit.
Also, compliments don’t last forever, so you have to keep offering compliments, while criticism can last for years. “Criticism is only good when you coat it with sugar.”
Some compliments can actually be insulting. For example, if a husband compliments a wife on her nice dress and make-up, she may feel he is only looking at her outside and not appreciating who she is on the inside.
If a person does not receive appreciation or recognition for what he or she does at work, he will look for another job even if it is a lower paying job.
“Complimenting is chesed.” We can do this in our families. When we compliment, we fulfill the mitzvah of loving your neighbor as yourself, which Rabbi Akiva taught is the whole teaching of the Torah.
Compliments to Rabbi Nissanian on an amazing shiur! These shiurim on compliments can be viewed on www.TorahAnytime.com.
By Susie Garber