Many years ago I was in an airport magazine shop and needed something mindless for a flight. I wasn’t looking for anything too heavy… and I settled on a little soft-cover book called Life’s Little Instruction Book by H. Jackson Brown. It was a collection of life wisdom that the author had compiled and written down as a gift to his son.
Although I liked much of the advice the book contained, one of the things in the book that has always stuck with me was one that said to “let your children overhear you saying complimentary things about them to other adults”. I’ve always tried to do that… but until recently I didn’t realize there was a corollary.
Here’s the back-story:
When I was studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem back in the mid-80’s, I became friendly with a guy who was in Israel studying in a one year yeshiva program. We had quite a few friends in common and it was natural that when we both ended up at Yeshiva University to finish our degrees, that we would remain friends.
Once we were studying together in New York, he introduced me to the rest of his family, and his parents made a regular practice of inviting me to their home for shabbat and holidays. Being both an OOT (Out Of Towner) and a BT (Ba’al Tshuvah), I was delighted to have a surrogate family with whom to spend weekends and holidays.
Not only were these frequent visits to my friend’s family a welcome opportunity to get off campus, but it was an invaluable learning experience for me since I hadn’t grown up in an observant home.
During these visits, my friend’s father would always find a way to teach me something new… but he always did so in such a way that it was as if he was reminding himself and I simply happened to overhear.
On many occasions he would point out some matter of Jewish law or observance… correct himself… and then say something like “That can’t be right… let’s check the source”. And before you knew it he would have a few books open in front of us and he would be explaining – to himself, of course – whatever point of Jewish law or observance he was really trying to teach me. But instead of making me feel like a backward student… he always made me feel like a peer with whom he was simply double-checking a fact.
To say that I felt like a ‘Ben Bayit’ (member of the family) in my friend’s house would be an understatement.
As time went on I became very friendly with all the extended members of my friend’s family. And as we moved on with our lives and got married… I made the acquaintance of their spouses as well.
Fast forward to the present and I find myself in Efrat, living a short walk from my friend’s older brother’s family. Zahava and I have become quite friendly with them… we’ve shared many meals together and have even celebrated a few family ‘simchas’ together.
When I spoke at Gilad’s Bar Mitzvah a few weeks ago, I had a long list of ‘thank-yous’ to the family and friends who had helped us arrive to this particular time and place. And when Gilad and I made a ‘Siyum’ (completion ceremony) on one of the books of the Talmud I was especially effusive with my thanks to the friends who helped us through our year of study together.
But the morning after the Bar Mitzvah, as I was driving to work, I realized that I owed a special thank you to my friend and his family for the many small pushes they’d given me in the direction I would eventually take in life.
And as I drove through the Judean hills past landmarks and towns that are mentioned in the Tanach (Torah, Prophets and Writings), I realized I should really try to repay some of the kindness I’d received from this special family. After all, so much of my Jewish education had come from them.
But I knew that they would probably wave off such thanks and say things like ‘Oh please… it was nothing’. These are the sort of people who might even be embarrassed by such praise.
Then I looked in the rear view mirror and caught site of one of my passengers. This young man wore the olive green uniform of an IDF soldier and his skin was tanned from his service in the south of the country. But his face reminded me immediately of his father… and in some ways of other members of his family as well.
So I proceeded to tell this young soldier stories of the meals I’d eaten at his grandparents table. I told him about Gilad’s Bar Mitzvah which his parents had attended, and I told him that likely the reason I was able to make a siyum with my son was because of the lessons I’d learned at his father’s, his uncle’s and especially his grandfather’s side.
And in so doing, I know this young man will tell his father and uncles… and they will tell their parents. In this way my thanks will be delivered in such a way that it will mean the most.
So yeah… about that corollary.
Yes, I highly recommend that you let your children overhear you saying complimentary things about them to other adults. But there’s something even better:
Praise people to their children and grandchildren when they’re not around. The kind of thank you that might make them blush with embarrassment if delivered to their face, will certainly warm their hearts if delivered via those they love most.
And judging by the knowing smile on the face of this young soldier… I’m guessing it makes the messenger feel pretty good as well.
David Bogner, formerly of Fairfield, CT, lives in Efrat with his wife Zahava (nee Cheryl Pomeranz), and their children Ariella, Gilad and Yonah. Since moving to Israel in 2003 David has been working in Israel’s defense industry on International Marketing and Business Development. In his free time David keeps a blog (www.treppenwitz.com) and is an amateur beekeeper.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.