We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create z’chuyos for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.
This week’s learning should be a z’chus for a refu’a sh’layma for
שלום דוד בן ברכה מרגוליט
Last week’s stretch of the week was: Support a truth a family member tells, even if it is hard to hear.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
Taking A Deeper Look - Lesson #47
מדבר שקר תרחק
MI’D’VAR SHEKER TIR’CHOK - STAY FAR AWAY FROM FALSEHOOD
Not only is speaking sheker prohibited, we are also not permitted to voluntarily and willingly lend an ear to words we know to be false, or even to a report whose truth is questionable. Sheker includes saying things that can be construed in two different ways, when our intention is to mislead others into believing the false interpretation of our words.
Similarly, if we say things that are true but deliberately omit crucial details so that the report will be taken in a false manner, this too is considered sheker, even though the words we uttered were absolutely correct. The classic example of this tactic is the person who tells his friend, “I read in the Shulchan Aruch that it is prohibited to learn and daven” but leaves out the final worlds of the text, “… in a place where there is a bad odor.”
Even if we do not utter a word, but falsehood emerges from our actions and body language, this is a violation of the issur. Certainly, writing falsehood is no less reprehensible than saying it. We may not even mislead others through our silence. Relating true facts, but mentioning them out of context, is another common violation of this issur.
Nor may we cause others to lie. Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach alerted us to this danger when he said regarding a bais din, “Interrogate the witnesses extensively and be careful with your words, lest they learn to lie” (Avos 1:9). If the interrogator does not invest a great deal of thought into every word, the direction of his questioning may give the witness an idea for how to fabricate his testimony.
Although Rabbi Shimon was speaking about the possibility of giving false testimony, no doubt this warning extends to distancing ourselves from causing any type of sheker. For example, when we interrogate our children regarding an incident in which they may have been at fault, it is vital to encourage them to tell the truth without fear of extreme punishment, so that our questioning should not lead them to lie in order to cover up their misdeed.
(Excerpted from The Code of Jewish Conduct by Rabbi Yitzchok Silver)
Story: (based on a true story)
I sang softly to myself as I cleared toys off the living room floor: Od yishama b’arei Yehuda... I had spoken to my mother a couple days before and the joy had still not worn off--my cousin Gitty was actually engaged! I’d been davening for her for almost a year. When I started, she was already several years older than her older sisters were when they got married, with a complicated family situation, and after a Shabbos spent at their house I began to worry about her. But now someone had recognized how wonderful she was! I could barely contain my excitement.
The phone’s ring broke me out of my thoughts and I picked it up to find my aunt on the line. Oops! I’d forgotten to call her. I said “Hello” and was about to wish her a mazal tov on her daughter when I remembered an idea I had just heard on one my childrens’ CDs, to not diminish someone’s joy in telling you good news by stopping them and telling them you already knew. So I spoke with my aunt, and soon enough, she told me that Gitty was engaged.
“That’s so great!” I replied. “Details! Details please!”
She enthusiastically laid out all there was to know, and then added, “I would have thought your mother would have told you by now, with it being such big news.”
O-kay. Not what I was going for at all. My mother had told me. But what could I do now?
“Oh,” I answered, “I haven’t spoken to her for a few days; it’s been kind of crazy. But I usually talk to her on Wednesdays, so I’m sure she was going to tell me tomorrow...” I rattled on. “Okay,” my aunt answered, but she didn’t seem convinced.
Wonderful. I had been the one to forget to call my aunt and wish her mazal tov, and now my mother was going to be thought of negatively. Plus, there was my own skin to save if my aunt called my mom and mentioned how I hadn’t known. When I ended the call, I immediately called my mother to tell her what had happened, apologize about what I had accidentally said about her, and ask her to play along with me if my aunt called.
As I lay in bed later that night I thought it all through. I wasn’t trying to hurt anyone with my deceptive words, which weren’t even a lie to start off with. It was to increase someone’s joy, and may not have violated halacha, but look what it had come to: I had lied again, and then asked someone else to lie. I could probably have accomplished the same goal by telling her I knew and then asking her to tell me all about it. The Torah says to keep far away from sheker. I felt like I needed to stay as far away from it as possible now, even if it might technically be okay, because I couldn’t control the fallout. And, because anything approaching falsehood has consequences, if I ever felt the need to use it in a permitted way, I would need to learn the halachos better, think it through to see if it was necessary, and ask a shailah of a rav as needed.
Discussion Question Options:
In what ways do we support sheker in our daily lives?
How can wordless actions communicate falsehood?
Why do we sometimes think that telling a half-truth is better than telling a lie?
Stretch of the Week:
Catch yourself before saying something not-quite-truthful for your own benefit.