Rabbi M. Goldberger
[The classic book of Jewish ethics,] "Path of the Just," explains that pleasure is the ultimate objective of our stay in this world. The only way to achieve the ultimate pleasure is through performing mitzvahs.
One of the greatest mitzvahs is chesed -- to help others. To be sensitive to their needs and to provide them with health, safety, food, a home, a soul mate, and, most of all, a feeling of importance. One of a person's deepest needs is to feel important, to feel that someone cares about him. When you praise someone, even with a small compliment, you are performing a great mitzvah of kindness.
When Abraham dealt with people, he would honor them greatly, calling them "my master" and referring to himself as "your servant" (Genesis 18:3). It may seem that he was lowering his own dignity, but in reality he was raising himself to the greatest heights a person can reach in this world. Abraham's desire and his actions to help others in need made him a royal prince in the eyes of the Creator. We learn from Abraham how much effort we must invest in practicing kindness and humility to all.
Imagine how our lives would be transformed if we emulated Abraham's acts of kindness to others. When Maimonides defines the mitzvah to love every Jew as oneself, he begins, "We must relate their praise!" (Hilchos Dei'os 6:3)
Are we lavish in our praise of others? Why not? People do better work, with greater effort, when we approve of them. Imagine how your home life would improve if you called your spouse at your lunch break, or right now, to say, "I've been thinking about your special qualities. You are so good to me..."
Everyone needs appreciation and encouragement for his self-esteem. Our Sages (Bava Basra 9b) teach that one who provides a poor person with money is performing a great mitzvah, which God rewards with six superlative blessings. One who adds kind words of appreciation and encouragement is rewarded with 11 blessings. (Tosafos says that these 11 are in addition to the six already received, for a total of 17. Hence, one receives nearly twice as many blessings for adding kind words as he does for giving the money!)
Just as money given has to be authentic, so that the poor person can buy food and other needs, the praise and encouragement have to be sincere, from the heart.
The prophet Isaiah depicts the merits of saying kind words in the following way: "If you bring forth your soul to the needy, your light will shine... God will lead you always and satisfy your soul..." (Isaiah 58:10) We see that true praise has to come from within our soul. We need to stop thinking about ourselves for a while and focus on another person's qualities. Sincere praise is a form of wealth. It can transform your children, your spouse, and all those who surround you.
It is said that there are two kinds of people: those who say, "It's good to see you," and those who say, "I'm here." We need to train ourselves to become like the first type, focused more on other people and their needs.
Notice other people's virtues. Imagine if you could feed starving people -- wouldn't you do so? Now realize that there are people all around you who are starved for your recognition. Wake up to their needs and recognize the opportunities you have to perform kindness.
How many gas stations do you pass as you drive to and from work? Consider this exercise: each station can remind you that fuel is necessary in order to keep going. People also need to be noticed and appreciated in order to survive and thrive. That is their fuel.
One of the keys to humility is to recognize that every person we meet is superior to us in some way. This should inspire us to analyze the good in others and learn from them, as the Mishnah says, "Who is wise? He who learns from every person" (Avos 4:1). Then strive to acknowledge these qualities by offering compliments and praises to others.
Reprinted with permission from InnerNet.org.
Excerpted from "Be a Friend" with permission of Targum Press.