We are striving to love our fellow Jews by improving
the way we interact with others.
Last week’s Stretch of the Week: This week develop a response to use when approached with information about a third party that is not for a constructive purpose.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
Falsehood for a Constructive Purpose
It is forbidden to say words that are true in a manner that will strengthen falsehood, such as by making a factual statement that omits an important detail. However, there are times when we are permitted, and even obligated, to say words that appear false, and we are prohibited from saying the truth, and this is when the goal is to restore the ultimate truth to its rightful place. This principle does not contradict the importance of uttering the truth, but requires us to gain a deeper understanding of what constitutes truth.
Many people have a simplistic view of truth. They think that this means always stating the facts as they occurred and falsehood means wavering in our report from what really took place. Sometimes, saying things as they are will not have positive repercussions but will rather, have a destructive effect. If the outcome is bad, one’s words are considered falsehood. On the other hand, there are times when what appears ostensibly to be falsehood will lead to an outcome of good and of fulfillment of what G-d wants from us and that is considered the ultimate truth.
Two benchmarks for determining whether something is truth or falsehood are the outcome and the intention. If the outcome of our words is evil, then the means by which we achieved that end is considered falsehood, and vice versa.
When it comes to preserving peace, there is an obligation to veer from the facts, no matter where we are. When a fire is raging, the only priority is to put it out as quickly as possible. Likewise, when a problem surfaces, we cannot take any chances by delaying the matter as this may allow the argument to spiral out of control.
(Excerpts from The Code of Jewish Conduct by Rabbi Yitzchok Silver)
The story I’m about to tell you was painful at the time and included a few mistakes. The aspect of this incident I want to stress though is at the end of the story where I learned that stretching the truth can sometimes save a relationship.
For many years, my family was looking for a match for my brother, Noah. Sometimes we struggled to contain our frustration with his indecision, hesitation, and fear. One can imagine the relief we felt when the day arrived and he told us he thought that he had found the right one. We were ecstatic, to say the least, and could not wait to meet Sara.
The next day, Noah brought Sara to our parents’ home. Our first impression was quite positive and we were thrilled and relieved that she was so lovely. Unfortunately, over the next hour we witnessed certain character traits that concerned us. Although she seemed positive, sweet and kind she also appeared to be opinionated and aggressive. We were concerned that these particular traits may be ones that our naïve brother may not be aware of. Noah was enamored of her and felt she was just perfect. Although we knew he could certainly be happy with her, we still felt an obligation to let him know how we felt.
After much contemplation and speaking with our rabbi to be sure we were doing the right thing, we had a talk with Noah. He listened to what we had to say and while he was disappointed that we didn’t share his feelings about her, he was open to the fact that we may have been able to perceive something that he was not able to see.
Then the mistake happened. The following day I surprisingly received a voicemail from Sara. Apparently, Noah had a chat with Sara and had divulged our conversation with her. She was extremely upset with us and wanted to let us know that we had no right ruining their relationship. I didn’t know what to say. I knew that, from the standpoint of Jewish law, we were allowed to do what we did, but never in our wildest dreams did we think that Noah would speak to Sara about it. I assume Noah thought it was best to be open and honest but I knew I had to patch things up before they got out of hand and tell Sara that Noah had misunderstood what we were trying to say.
“My brother said that? He TOTALLY misunderstood our point! We told him we thought you were wonderful and being assertive and forthright would complement his more easygoing and naïve nature. We didn’t mean it as a critique on your personality but rather as an example of how great the match would be!” “Well it didn’t sound that way to me!” she remarked.
“Trust me Sara, I’ll have a talk with my brother about clarifying things first before discussing them with others. We only had a talk about the match and were telling him how impressed we were with you. He is probably especially nervous and wanted to make sure that every issue was on the table.”
Honestly, I don’t know what Sara really felt in her heart at that point. If I were her, I don’t know if I would have believed me. What I do know is that it was more important to patch up this bad mistake before it spiraled out of control. By communicating to Sara that we liked her and meant no harm, I was trying to lessen her hurt feelings. Even though this was stretching the truth a bit, since our conversation with Noah was a little different than how I had explained it to her, I knew that this was a clear example of when “stretching the truth” is a mitzvah instead of a transgression. Our relationship with Sara almost had a rocky start, but, because I realized the importance of explaining the conversation with a positive spin, everyone is on good terms.
Discussion Question Options:
- Is it possible to get carried away with speaking falsehood for a constructive purpose and end up being a person that simply lies?
- When people ask you for your honest opinion and you don’t think they will appreciate the truth, what is the right response?
Stretch of the Week:
Give someone feedback this week based on how they will receive your words as opposed to how you feel like saying them.