The Five Words that Changed a Life

Whether you're a Jewish leader, doctor, parent or teacher, great leaders believe in the people they're leading.

Yosef Willens runs an organization for families of children with terminal illnesses. When I asked him what inspired him to start this organization 30 years ago, he told me the following story.

Yosef was 9 years old living in Israel. For weeks he wasn't feeling well and after extensive blood tests he was diagnosed with cancer. Dr. Eli Finkel had to deliver the grim news to Yosef and his parents. The doctor spoke with kindness and sensitivity, as he detailed the gameplan and what they needed to know. After a long meeting, Dr. Finkel opened his office door and, in Hebrew, said to the nurse, “Tir’i- eizeh yeled im koach!”- Take a look at what strength this boy has!

“Those 5 simple Hebrew words changed my life," Yosef said. "They gave me a boost of encouragement and the strength I needed to endure all the painful treatments over the next two years. Dr. Finkel inspired me to find the inner strength to fight the illness and instilled within me the hope that I would once again be healthy. And it's because of those 5 simple words that I've been able to build this organization and help thousands of families worldwide.”

Yosef’s story reminded me of the famous study conducted by Harvard professor, Dr. Robert Rosenthal. In the 1960’s, Dr. Rosenthal went into an elementary school in California, the Oak School, and gave the students a test that he claimed was measuring what he called ‘blooming intelligence’. He called in the teachers to share the results. But he left out one key detail: he made the whole thing up. He randomly chose the students, faked their scores, and pretended that those students were smarter than they were. When he returned a year later, he asked to review all the student test scores and what he found nearly knocked him over. The students he randomly selected- the ones he told the teachers were about to bloom- had in fact risen to the top of their classes. Just to be sure that the data was correct, he then gave these kids an IQ test and their IQ had gone up an average of 9 points higher than their peers - in a year!

By internalizing the fact that their teachers believed in them, the students were able to improve and grow.

Great leaders believe in the people they're leading. That's true whether you are a Jewish leader, a doctor, teacher or parent: believe in the people you're leading.

When we tell our children, "Here's a kid with enormous strength!" and we truly believe in them, we enable them to strive to reach their goals and bring out their inner greatness.

Comments (7)

(6) Anonymous, August 14, 2020 7:26 PM

Grieving for a lost sister

I need help with coming to terms with the death of my sister, Sandy Strauss. Seema bat Pesach Z"L passed away on Shushan Purim (March 20, 1992). She was 42 years old. My grief has intensified in the 28 years that Sandy has been gone. What can I do this coming year to remember her?

Nancy, August 16, 2020 8:20 PM

To commenter #6 anonymous

I am so sorry you lost your sister. Perhaps there is a mitzvah you can do in her memory. Also, maybe you can make an extra Kol Nidre contribution this year in her memory. The grief will
never go away entirely, but maybe you can speak with someone who can help. (Yes, I’m sure you’ve heard that suggestion before but maybe a different person can help.)

(5) Chaya S Pilchick, August 13, 2020 9:25 PM

I would be honored to volunteer, when Hkb"h gives me my full strength back.

Too emotional to comment!

(4) Anonymous, August 13, 2020 9:08 PM

Beautiful message

This story is told by many people each with their own unique version.
Still, the message is important to keep repeating.

(3) Alexandra, August 13, 2020 1:43 PM

Beautiful video, todah rabah Shabbat Shalom

(2) Pegoty Ngeno, August 13, 2020 1:40 PM

I am grateful to be on this wall

That’s an amazing idea to believe in the people you’re leading. I will practice that with my children

(1) EDNAH WINTER, August 9, 2020 2:12 PM

Que linda história B´H!! Obrigada!!!


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