"And Yaakov said to them, “Brothers, where are you from?”
Yaakov’s reference to the shepherds of Charan as “brothers” was not
considered sheker, because it is permissible to call acquaintances
and neighbors “brothers1.” Although
this is allowed, was this not a compromise of Yaakov’s high standards of
truth? Is it not preferable to be exact and precise, calling only one’s
biological relative “brother”? In fact, it is not only permissible, but
actually praiseworthy to use such expressions of fondness toward others.
The Torah’s “ways of pleasantness” should be conveyed in one’s speech, for
by using endearing expressions in our conversation we create bonds of
friendship with others2.
The principle is especially relevant when talking to family members.
Calling in-laws “Mom” and “Dad,” thereby letting them know that you feel
they treat you like their own child, is part of the mitzvah of
honoring them. By the same token, it is praiseworthy to refer to one’s son-
or daughter-in-law as “Son” or “Daughter.” Although Yaakov had only one
daughter, Dina, the Torah writes, “All of [Yaakov’s] sons and daughters
tried to console him, but he refused to be comforted3.” The word “daughters” is used in its plural form
because it refers to his daughters-in-law – “for a person does not
hesitate to refer to his son-in-law as his son, or to his daughter-in-law
So too, one can call a grandfather “Dad,” just as Yaakov prayed to “the
God of his father, Avraham5,” although
Avraham was his grandfather. Similarly, an adopted child can call his
adoptive father “Dad” and his adoptive father can call him “Son,” since
one who rears a child is comparable to the one who gave birth to that
child6. It is common practice to call
any family member or close friend “Uncle” or “Aunt.” This too is
permitted, so long as one realizes that they are only terms of endearment,
and that the individual is not really one’s relative7.