The Rabbi was walking home from the early Shabbat minyan when he crossed paths with a young father who attended the same synagogue. The young man was walking quickly with his two little sons but stopped as the Rabbi greeted them with an enthusiastic “Shabbat shalom!”
“How are these tzaddikim?” the Rav enquired, looking down at the little brothers. “If they are the sons of a tzaddik they must also be good in all they do.”
The little boys stared at the distinguished Rav and silently paid close attention to his words.
“What’s your name?” he asked the taller boy.
“Avraham,” the boy shyly replied.
“Avraham Mandel?” the Rabbi answered.
The boy was taken aback and could not imagine how this Rav knew his name. His father wisely interjected, “Yes, he is Avraham Mandel.”
“I heard about you,” the Rav said. “You are one of the best boys in your class — maybe even number one. Keep it up and you’ll grow up to be a big talmid chacham.”
Turning to the younger of the two, he added, “And if these are your father and brother, I’m sure you’re also a big tzaddik.”
Flattering a wicked person is derided by our Sages. One who is flattered in spite of his negative behavior is deterred from repenting and mending his ways. The one who flatters is not only hurting the recipient of his false praises but is also guilty of failing to do the commandment of reproof. However, every trait that Hashem created has both positive and negative attributes. One who flatters a child who has not yet achieved may inspire that little person to perform and reach his potential. Parents and teachers are permitted to “flatter” a child in order to encourage a child. The praise may not be true, yet — but a good word can set the course of a child towards ultimate success one day down the road.