“You look very nice.” “That was an excellent presentation.” “Your house is so lovely.”

Most people are quick to compliment others. It is often done out of a desire to make someone else happy, or to express our opinion, or even to make someone appreciate us more. Surely there can be nothing wrong with paying someone a compliment?

Unless, of course, the compliment is insincere. Honesty is important. In fact, the Biblical commentator Rashi, interprets Genesis 37:4, “They (the sons of Jacob) could not speak to him (Joseph) peaceably” as praise of the brothers: “For they did not speak one thing with their mouth and another thing in their heart.”

A compliment stated solely for the purpose of ingratiating one’s self to another person is not a compliment at all. It is flattery. This is exactly what is implied in the expression “pay a compliment”–using words to pay for the good will of the other person. Telling your boss that the presentation was excellent when it wasn’t, is sheker (falsehood), nothing less.

Unfortunately, many situations require that compliments, even false ones, be made. What can one do? To avoid such pitfalls, focus on compliments that are both detailed and true. For instance: “I like the style of your shoes.” “You presented the response quite clearly.” “What an excellent choice of colors for this room.”

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