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Your Mission: Praise Your Spouse

Vayeira (Genesis 18-22 )

by Rabbi Jared Viders

Most of the phone calls received at our home are looking for someone other than me. My kids get calls from friends hoping to set up play dates or seeking confirmation of sundry homework assignments. My wife gets calls from neighbors orchestrating carpool and co-coordinating chesed projects. That basically leaves the tele-marketers, political candidates and fundraisers who are interested in schmoozing with me.

There is one woman who calls (frequently) to speak with my wife. On those (frequent) occasions when I pick up the phone, she provides a free, easy and thoughtful gift to my marriage - for instead of simply asking "Is your wife available?" she asks, "Is your aishes chayil (your wonderful woman of valor) home?" Now, was that such a big deal? Did it cost any time or any money? Absolutely not. Just an ounce of thoughtfulness and a willingness to remind me how special, enthusiastic, dedicated and praiseworthy my wife really is. Costs her nothing. To the listener, though, it is priceless.

Who wouldn't want such a public relations job? Imagine someone met my wife in the grocery store and says, "Viders? That name is so familiar. Wait does your husband have a reddish-grayish beard? I heard him speak once and he has the greatest sense of humor. We were rolling in the aisles. And we were all so inspired from his words!"

That isn't likely to happen but if it did, wouldn't it make my wife feel like a million bucks? And wouldn't I feel grateful to that woman for reminding my wife what a terrific sense of humor I have?! Just a few words can generate a heightened sense of happiness and appreciativeness.

* * *

"They said to [Avraham], "Where is Sarah your wife? And he said, "Behold - in the tent!" (Genesis 18:9)

Rashi: "The angels knew where Sarah was but they nonetheless asked to make it known that she was modest in order to endear her to her husband."

From all indications, one can reasonably postulate that Avraham and Sarah shared a wonderful and enriching marriage buoyed by a substantial degree of mutual respect and esteem. So far as we know, she was the most righteous woman on the planet and Avraham's unswerving partner in his mission of bringing knowledge of God to the world. They had successfully navigated many decades of matrimonial harmony - notwithstanding many personal hardships, traumatic events and upheaval. They have graduated the shalom bayit school of hard knocks with flying colors. They will remain the model Jewish home for eternity. Do the angels really need to "endear her to her husband" any further?

The lesson here is that we can, with relative ease, take on a new mission in life - to raise people's esteem in the eyes of those whom they love. A teacher tells a parent what a delight it is to have her daughter in class. A parent mentions to a teacher how his child is so inspired by what she is learning in school. A shopkeeper mentions to a husband that his wife has such a pleasant disposition (and not just because she's a liberal spender!). A guest mentions to his host, "I've heard your wife's potato kugel is really amazing." The permutations are endless. And the payoff - in terms of bolstering relationships, ratcheting-up endearment, enhancing one's sense of self-worth, as well - is inestimable.

[Just to be clear, I am not advocating untruths, hyperbole or flattery. If a person has two left-thumbs there is little to be gained in suggesting that he's Mr. Fix-It around the house. If one has a terrible sense of direction, what's the point of hailing him as the second coming of Magellan. The point is merely this - for the wise-hearted individual with a discerning eye and a sincere desire to elevate someone's esteem in the eyes of others, opportunities abound.]

Along similar lines, one should not easily shirk opportunities to praise others directly (least of all his or her spouse). As the legendary Rebbetzin Kanievsky advised, "The words a wife uses to praise her husband are the most precious words she will say in her life. There is never a situation where one spouse gives another too much praise."

This Shabbos let us internalize the insightfulness of the angels' remarks. Remarks that were deliberately (albeit subtly) crafted with the hopes that Avraham would hold his wife in even higher esteem.

We are well-aware of the destructive impact that negative, critical speech can wreak on relationships. That's simply not enough. The capacity to speak is what sets us apart as human beings. The capacity to speak in such a way that we routinely (and creatively) lift the spirits and esteem of those around us is the hallmark of greatness that we must strive for.

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