Shabbat-Table Talks: Mishpatim
Rabbi Ralph Tawil <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Keeping far from falsehood. Honesty is an important part of
relationships. The value of keeping far from falsehood means that we must try as
much as is possible to tell the truth and not to lie. Although keeping distant
from falsehood is an important value, it is not an ultimate value. Some
situations require a “creative way” of saying the truth. Even in these
situations, we should try to remain within the bounds of the truth.
Parashat Mishpatim contains the first extensive law code in the Torah. It deals
with many areas of law, including murder, injury, damage to property, damage by
property (the goring ox), relationships to workers and debtors, etc. One of the
areas that Parashat Mishpatim focuses upon is the area of justice. The courts
must maintain a high level of honesty and truth. Never taking bribes, and never
blindly following the majority, when the majority is to do evil. In the context
of laws directed at the judicial system the Torah commands:
From a false matter, you are to keep far! And one clear and innocent do
not kill, for I do not acquit a guilty person.
Why do you think the Torah says
“to keep far away” from falsehood, rather than just saying “don’t
lie?” (The Torah wants that we should not just be careful not to say a lie,
but that we should make sure that our words not be misunderstood to be a lie.)
is wrong with lying?
is the connection between the end of the verse that says not to kill the
innocent person, and the beginning of the verse that speaks against lying?
you know any other verses that speak against lying? (The Decalogue, or “ten
commandments” speaks against bearing false testimony.)
is not lying so important that it is included in the “ ‘asseret hadibberot”
(Decalogue)? Justice is the foundation of our society. Honesty is the foundation
of justice. A society that has rampant lying that even affects the court system
is a society doomed to crumble.
and Mishle contain many verses that speak very forcefully about those who lie,
and very favorably about those who tell the truth.
31:19-- Let lying lips be silenced…
101: 5-8—He who slanders his friend in secret I will destroy; I cannot endure
the haughty and the proud man. My eyes are on the trusty men of the land, to
have them at My side. He who follows the way of the blameless shall be in My
service. He who deals deceitfully shall not live in My house; he who speaks an
untruth shall not stand before My eyes. Each morning I will destroy the wicked
of the land, to rid the city of the Lord of all evildoers.
145:18—Hashem is near to all who call Him, to all who call Him in truth.
12:22—Lying speech is an abomination to Hashem, but those who act faithfully
great Jewish Ethicist, R. Eliezer Papo, in his Pele Yo’ess, speaks very
strongly against the liar:
Anyone who has this bad trait [of lying] is a disgrace and despised by
people…There is a fitting punishment for the liar—that even when he tells
the truth he will not be believed. (One can illustrate this point with the story
of the “boy who cried wolf.”)
what the above sources say concerning distancing oneself from a lie, there is an
interesting discussion concerning truth telling when people’s feelings are at
What do you say while dancing in front of the bride?
Bet Shammai says: Say [The praise of] the bride as she is. Bet Hillel says, say
“a beautiful and pious bride.” Bet Shammai said to Bet Hillel: what if she
were lame or blind, do you still say “a beautiful and pious bride?” The
Torah says, “keep far away from falsehood.” Bet Hillel said to Bet Shammai:
According to your words, he who made a bad deal at the market, should he praise
it in front of him, or be critical? One should definitely praise it. Therefore,
Bet Hillel said: one’s disposition should be sweet in association with other
people (i.e., one should sympathize with their feelings.) (Kallah Rabbati 9:1;
also found in Ketubot 16b-17a).
are several things to be noted when considering this case. The terms
“beautiful and pious” are very subjective and therefore there is no
“objective truth” being violated. Bet Hillel is not suggesting lying. He is
suggesting that we find the good in the bride and praise generally with that
good in mind. Bet Hillel’s principle of being sympathetic to people’s
feelings is what allows the man to praise the bride from the groom’s
perspective. In the groom’s eyes, she must be “beautiful and pious.” In
addition, the dancing before the bride is a public event where it is especially
important to consider people’s feelings. We should not conclude from the above
discussion that any time someone would be hurt by the truth, you are allowed to
lie. This is not the case.
What are some situations when we feel like lying? (Think of some situations that could happen in school, work, or family.)
can we overcome the urge to lie? (By realizing that errors of judgment are part
of the human condition and that bearing the consequences of these errors of
judgment is the only way to really learn from our mistakes and grow.)
built on lies are built on flimsy ground. The bedrock of relationship is honesty
and truth telling. Billy Joel expressed this idea in the following verses:
can always find someone to say they sympathize,
I wear my heart out on my sleeve.
I don’t want some pretty face to tell me pretty lies
I want is someone to believe
is such a lonely word
is so untrue.
is hardly ever heard
mostly what I need from you.
To read last year's Table Talk on Mishpatim click here.
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