Shabbat-Table Talks: Mishpatim

To read last year's Table Talk on Mishpatim click here.



By: Rabbi Ralph Tawil <>


Value: 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.


Background: 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:


Text: Shemot 23:7

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.


Discussion: 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.)

What is wrong with lying?

What 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?

Do you know any other verses that speak against lying? (The Decalogue, or “ten commandments” speaks against bearing false testimony.)


Why 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.


Tehillim and Mishle contain many verses that speak very forcefully about those who lie, and very favorably about those who tell the truth.

Tehillim 31:19-- Let lying lips be silenced…

Tehillim 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.

Tehillim 145:18—Hashem is near to all who call Him, to all who call Him in truth.

Mishle 12:22—Lying speech is an abomination to Hashem, but those who act faithfully please Him.


The 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.”)


Despite 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 stake:

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).


There 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.)

How 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.)


Relationships 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:

I can always find someone to say they sympathize,

If I wear my heart out on my sleeve.

But I don’t want some pretty face to tell me pretty lies

All I want is someone to believe


Honesty is such a lonely word

Everyone is so untrue.

Honesty is hardly ever heard

And mostly what I need from you.

To read last year's Table Talk on Mishpatim click here.


If you would like to dedicate Shabbat Table Talks in honor or in memory of a loved one, or to subscribe to Shabbat Table Talks, send an email to  Shabbat Table Talks is a publication of the Sephardic Orthodox Union.