My nineteen-year-old son was playing soccer with his much younger cousins. Although it was three against one, my son went easy on his cousins and was down by several points. It was only when my son’sMy son went easy on his cousins five-year-old cousin joined his team that he began to play harder for his young teammate’s sake. And by the end of the game, my son had turned the score around and won the game. The little boy went around bragging that he had won the game. Until he joined the team, his nineteen-year-old cousin was losing, and only after he joined the team their team won.

I can’t tell you how proud I was to watch my son smile and allow his little cousin to believe in himself.

Obey Your Parents

When Jacob left his parents’ home to escape his brother’s rage, he stocked up on provisions. His wealthy parents made certain that he had plenty of gold and silver, and yet he arrived at his uncle Laban’s home penniless.

What happened to his gold and silver? Our sages taught that Esau learned of Jacob’s departure and dispatched his son Eliphaz to murder him. Alas, when Eliphaz reached his uncle Jacob, he experienced a change of heart. Having been raised in his grandfather Isaac’s home, he couldn’t bring himself to murder his uncle. “But what should I do about the mitzvah of obeying my father?” he asked Jacob. “Take my money,” replied Jacob,” for a poor man is counted as dead.”1

This is a curious story. We know that the law of honoring parents is suspended when the parent instructs the child to transgress G‑d’s law. When Eliphaz asked, “What shall I do about my father’s orders?” Jacob should have replied that on this occasion he was required to disobey his father.

One might see Jacob’s answer not as a confirmation that Eliphaz was bound by his father’s orders, but as a response Eliphaz could use to pacify Esau. Indeed, the Midrash teaches that Esau flew into a rage and confiscated Eliphaz’s gold when he learned that Eliphaz had spared Jacob.2

Yet, this answer is not satisfactory because Jacob should have, at the very least, explained to Eliphaz that he was under no obligation to his father before providing the means and rationale with which he could pacify his father. Why did he leave Eliphaz under the impression that he was under an obligation to obey his father?

Jacob and Eliphaz

When Jacob saw that Eliphaz was committed to honoring his father, he did not want to tear down the young man’s reverence for the mitzvah. Eliphaz wasn’t a nice man. The Torah tells us that he followed in his father’s ways, violating women, destroying families, committing adultery and incest with impunity. And yet, he cherished this one mitzvah.3

Jacob was not about to take this mitzvah away from him. If Jacob would give Eliphaz license to disobey his father, he mightJacob was not about to take this mitzvah away never have obeyed his father again. But imagine the kind of impact Jacob had on Eliphaz, who surely did not fail to notice that Jacob was prepared to lose his entire fortune to help Eliphaz obey his father. He never once pleaded for mercy. He simply took it as a given that Eliphaz would obey his father. This vote of confidence must have made Eliphaz proud.

True, Eliphaz was not a nice man, Esau was not a righteous father, and this was one occasion when Eliphaz was not required to obey his father. True, it cost Jacob his entire fortune, and forced him into 20 years of hard labor, but he was willing to accept it all to encourage Eliphaz in this mitzvah.

The best way to encourage children is to build them up. Identify their strengths, let them shine, show confidence in them and let them feel good about themselves. This approach yields much greater dividends than fighting to correct their faults. Shore up their strengths, and their faults will self-correct.4

Believe in a child and the child will prove you right. Don’t believe in a child and the child will prove you right.

When Thomas Edison was a boy, his teacher declared that he was “addled” because he was dyslexic. He mother marched into the schoolhouse and demanded that his teacher apologize. The teacher refused, whereupon Mrs. Edison announced that she would withdraw her son from the school and teach him herself. Years later, Thomas Edison had this to say: “My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me: and I felt I had something to live for, someone I must not disappoint.”5

The Teacher Believed

Jennie Ivey, fresh out of teachers’ college, got a job at an inner city high school teaching history. To her surprise, she was given the honors class. When the students filed in on the first day of school with attitude, she assumed they resented being assigned a rookie teacher.

She decided to treat them with the respect they deserved and told them what an honor it was for her to teach them. She spent the entire first period seeking their guidance, asking them what they did not like about history. As the students shared their pet peeves, Jennie took careful notes. She went home that night and built her strategy. Her classes would contain no lists of names, places and dates. No multiple choice or fill in the blank test questions. She would teach history with relevance to current events and would explore the hearts and minds of the real-life people that lived so many years ago.

The students responded to her efforts and thrived in her class. The discussions were lively, the subjects engaging and the atmosphere light. Her classes were so fun and enjoyable that the students looked forward to them all day. They were so enthused that they entered national competitions and brought home a trophy. The days and months rolled by so fast that she couldn’t believe the end of the year had already arrived.

On the last day of the year, the principalJennie was confused. None of her classes were remedial commended her work with the remedial class. Jennie was confused. None of her classes were remedial. They were all honors. The principal pointed out that her history class in period A was remedial, but Jenny showed the principal her copy of the class list. The word “Honors” was clearly written across the top.

They were both in shock. Jennie really didn’t know she was teaching a remedial class. She treated her students like an honors class, and they rose to the challenge. That day, Jennie learned a lesson that is never taught in teachers’ college. There is no such thing as a remedial student. It all depends on how you treat them. Treat them like honor students and they will find their honor.6