The power of praise
By Rabbi Baruch Lederman
SAN DIEGO –The following true story, submitted by Yaakov Lederman, is documented in Kids Speak 4:
My name is Chaim. I am eleven. I live in Israel. At the beginning of the school year my father met my teacher on the street. At first he tried to cross to the other side because he didn’t want to hear the usual teacher complaints about me that he was accustomed to hearing year after year, but the teacher spotted him and said, “Hello, how are you. I must tell you what a wonderful boy you have. He’s progressing in his studies from day to day and his behavior is exceptional. You can be really proud of him.”
My shocked father listened to what he said and literally burst with pride. He came home and gave me two resounding kisses, saying, “I have never had such nachas.”
I, of course, was confused. On the one hand, I was happy with my whole heart to see my father so happy and proud of me. But on the other hand, I knew that it wasn’t true. I asked myself, Why would my teacher lie for me? I thought that maybe he was trying to encourage me, but in any case, I still couldn’t understand what was going on.
The next day I went to school and looked at the teacher, but he acted as if he hadn’t praised me to my father the day before. I didn’t understand his game, but just to be on the safe side and as a gesture of appreciation, I tried not to disturb him in class.
This went on several more times. Whether I behaved good or bad, my father would meet the teacher on the street and hear unimaginable praises sung about me. Then my father would return home beaming with happiness, pride and even prizes. The next day, the teacher would always act as if nothing happened. The whole thing was becoming increasingly uncomfortable and distinctly unpleasant for me. None the less, I thought I should behave better and even participate in class. My good behavior would usually last for about a week or so, after each of these encounters.
The mystery was solved on Purim. I arrived at my teacher’s house with my father to bring him shalach manos (a Purim Gift Basket). I was wearing a mask on my face and you couldn’t recognize me. The teacher greeted my father with a joyous cry of “Happy Purim! Please come in and drink something.” Then he called his family. “Come meet the father of my best pupil. I’ve already run into him several times and, judging by his reaction, he doesn’t believe me when I tell him that his son is so outstanding.”
My father actually blushed with pride.
“He sits at the back of the classroom yet still participates as if he were sitting right next to me.” A warning bell began to ring inside my head. It wasn’t true. I’ve sat in the front row since the beginning of the year because I disturbed the class. What was going on here? At that moment it occured to me that he must have mistaken my father for someone else’s.
As if to confirm my thoughts, the teacher cried “Come, Yosef, take off your mask so that everyone can see you.”
Yosef?!! Suddenly I understood everything. My teacher had mixed up the hardest working kid in the class with the laziest. I recalled how much Yosef’s father and mine looked alike.
I started sweating under the mask and maybe there were even a few tears mixed in. My father though, was laughing, thinking that the teacher ‘mixed up’ my name as a Purim joke.
With one swift movement, the teacher removed the mask from my now very wet face. I saw how his expression rapidly changed to one of confusion. He looked at me and at my father, then back again at me and didn’t know what to say. “What’s going on here?” he said, “You’re Yosef’s father, aren’t’ you?”
“Chaim, not Yosef,” my father corrected him with a laugh, thinking that the teacher was continuing his Purim joke. I knew that if the teacher would explain what had become clear to him that moment, I was lost. I gave him a pleading look. Let him just not destroy my father’s Purim joy. Later, whatever would be would be.
The teacher looked at my pleading face and said, “Oh, of course, Chaim. I must have drunk too much wine and I’m mixing up Mordechai and Haman,” he said, and my father gave a hearty chuckle.
The scene ended somehow. My teacher shook my hand warmly, looked at me and said, as if suddenly remembering, “You know something?” he turned to my father, “Lately your son has really been making excellent progress.”
That was the most thoughtful Purim in my life. The mystery was solved. The teacher had mistaken my father for Yosef’s father and all the praises I got really belonged to Yosef. All of a sudden I realized how pleasant it was to be the best boy in class. I had never felt as good as I had in the previous weeks.
Now I can’t wait to go back to school to thank my teacher for keeping our little secret – and to start to work hard so that next time he meets my father, the praises will really be meant for me – when I am the hardest working boy in the class.
Dedicated Anonymously in honor of the Torah institutions of San Diego.
Rabbi Lederman is spiritual leader of Congregation Kehillas Torah. He may be contacted at email@example.com
Short URL: http://www.sdjewishworld.com/?p=15609