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Return Rudeness with Kindness

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She brings him good, not harm,
     all the days of her life.
— Proverbs 31:12

When I was a young rabbinical student, I stayed with one of my teachers for the Sabbath. What I remember most about that Sabbath was something that was so inconsequential that I’m sure my friends didn’t even notice it. But it made a huge impression on me.

We had all arrived at our host’s home after synagogue and were about to eat the Sabbath meal. A few of the couple’s children were making trouble and there was a big mess on the floor. My teacher grew tense, and he said something very rude to his wife (which I’m sure he later regretted). I was expecting an argument to break out. But instead, this wise woman of God returned her husband’s harsh words with kind and gentle ones.

It would have been completely understandable if the wife had called out her husband for his insensitivity and for embarrassing her in front of his students. Yet, she chose to overlook the slight and remain loving. In return, she got a peaceful, joyful home instead of a home of strife. This attitude is best summed up in the third verse about the woman of valor who is described in Proverbs 31:10–31: “She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.” The Jewish sages explain that this means that a woman of valor repays her husband with goodness when he is good to her — and more importantly, even when he is not.

This attitude, however, is not one only for women to adapt and follow, but one for us all! In fact, the Talmud shares a story about a husband who did the very same. It was well known that the wife of Rabbi Chiya treated him extremely badly and caused him much distress. Yet, whenever he would find something that she would like, he would buy it and bring it to her as a gift. A colleague of Rabbi Chiya couldn’t hold back and asked him, “Why do you do this? She pains you so much!” Rabbi Chiya answered, “It suffices for us that our wives raise our children and save us from sin.”

The message for all of us, married or not, is that it is righteous and noble to honor those around us, even when they treat us poorly. Ultimately, when we can put our own honor and feelings aside, we create a more positive environment that we can all enjoy. While our gut reaction might be to give a rude person exactly what they deserve, God calls us to go above our natural tendency and act like Him instead — with patience, kindness, love, understanding, and mercy.

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President

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