Kli Yakar Genesis: Vayishlach
“’Tis an old maxim in the schools,
That flattery’s the food of fools;
Yet now and then your men of wit,
Will condescend to take a bit”
Jonathan Swift, 1667-1745
“Flattery is all right if you don’t inhale.”
Adlai E. Stevenson, 1900-1965
“Flattery looks like friendship, just like a wolf looks like a dog.”
“When the flatterer pipes, then the devil dances.”
Thomas Fuller, 1732
“A flatterer is one who says things to your face that he wouldn’t say behind your back.”
I couldn’t decide which quote to pick, so I used them all.
Jacob sends word ahead to his brother Esau, calling himself his brother’s servant. After that it says Jacob was very fearful (Genesis 32:7).
The Kli Yakar explains that the source of Jacob’s great fear was because of the implied flattery. The Kli Yakar then quotes the Talmudic dictum:
Rabbi Elazar says: whoever flatters his friend, in the end will fall in his hands.
Tractate Sotah 41b.
So apparently Jacob had much to fear in his encounter with Esau. Thankfully he came away relatively unscathed from the encounter, though subsequent encounters between the Children of Israel and the descendants of Esau have often been less than pleasant.
While it is nice to say a kind word we should make sure not to confuse it with unwarranted flattery.
May we be spared from undue flattery and likewise spare others the same.
To all of my non-flattering friends. Especially those who go out of their way to do the opposite. The insults are sweeter than any flattery could be.