Posted by: gruvenreuven | February 2, 2010

To Praise or Not to Praise

The Daf Yomi for yesterday was page 164 of Bava Basra. On page 164b, sixth line up from the bottom of the page we learn:

“Rabbi Dimi brother of Rabbi Safra taught: A man should never speak in [Excessive] praise of this friend, because by praise of him brings about blame.”

Rabbi Dimi brings this explanation down as a result of an incident mentioned earlier on the page: Rabbi Shimon was sitting in Rebbe’s presence when he finished a section of the book of Tehillim. Rebbe said “How neat is this writing!” Rabbi Shimon replied, “I didn’t write it, Rabbi Yehuda Chayata wrote it.” Rebbe then rebuked Rabbi Shimon saying “Stay away from Lashon Hora (i.e. evil speech/gossip)”.

The Rashbam (Shmuel ben Meir 1085 -1158ce) explains that a person should never speak excessively in praise of his friend, because by mentioning his praise he (or others) will come to mention his faults as well. Apparently it is only prohibited if one offer excessive praise as this will lead the listener to interject that the person does not posses those traits all the time, or posses some faults as well.

The Rambam (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon 1137-1204ce) explains that this prohibition applies only in public for there are bound to be enemies of the person being praised in the group listening, and they will for sure begin to talk negatively about the person. The Rambam is of the opinion that in private this prohibition does not apply.

Ok, so what’s my real life take away…. Here’s a scenario: As a manager of a software development team, if I have a report that (to meet a deadline) works all day Sunday on his day off to correct last minute issues found in code previously developed by contractors we hired. This issue would have would have prevented us from rolling out the project on time. The employee’s heads down effort and creative problem solving skills save the day for us! Should I not praise him at our next staff meeting? Should I not praise him in his upcoming review? Of course not!!! I absolutely need to recognize his accomplishments, but I can’t over do it. The following week I can’t praise him again for the same effort. Or embellish this achievement to make it more heroic then it really was. In doing that, I would probably cause discontent amongst the rest of the team, and some may start to speak Lashon Hora about their teammate.

It’s a balance. Yes, we need to praise and speak well of our fellow. Point out things that they did well, but we can’t over do it. Or turn good work into monumental achievements in front of others. Excessively stating the good, although we are saying good things, can turn into a situation where it is as if we were speaking ill of the person.

Reb Yisrael Meir Kagan of Radin (1838-1933ce) states the same in his work Chofetz Chaim. As such, it was very interesting for me to come across this in my Talmud studies, as it’s always fun to find the root source of a pasuk.

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