46 - Stay Far Away from Falsehood part 1

For the Torah's injunction not to speak sheker, falsehood, unique phrasing is used: “Mi'd’var sheker tirchak-Stay far away from falsehood” (Shemos 23:7).

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Taking A Deeper Look - Lesson #46

מדבר שקר תרחק

PART 1– Avoiding Falsehood


For the Torah’s injunction not to speak sheker, falsehood, unique phrasing is used: “Mi’d’var sheker tirchak-Stay far away from falsehood” (Shemos 23:7).  Apparently, the Torah did not find it sufficient to use the more common word of “Ti’sha’mer-Guard yourself.”  When it comes to sheker, we have to keep a great distance and flee from every trace of falsehood.  Sheker is regarded as something repulsive, leading us to steer clear of anything related to it.

Therefore, when a person speaks words of sheker he violates a positive mitzva, even if he merely includes some falsehood in a true report, and even if the words are literally true but their implication is false.  Although some authorities stipulate that the Torah prohibition is limited to testimony in bais din, many authorities expand the Torah issur to include any sheker that causes harm to another person.


Adults should accustom children from a young age to say only the truth.  When the Vilna Gaon left his home, he instructed his wife to punish his children mainly if they veered from the truth.  Naturally, at a young age children may find it difficult to draw the line between truth and imagination, and we might hear them report stories that have little to do with reality as if they really happened.  This is to be expected and is generally outgrown.  However, when the child show signs of intentionally misrepresenting the truth for his own benefit, it is crucial that his parents set him straight.

The Sefer Hachinuch writes that there is nothing more disgusting than falsehood; it is the cause of many of the diseases and curses in this world.  The Chazon Ish, in his work Emunah U’bitachon, explains that a person who says an untruth occasionally retains his basic human form though it is tainted by sin.  But someone who makes a habit of lying adopts the form of a shakran, a liar, and his human aspect is nullified. On the other hand, the Orchos Tzaddikim tells us that when someone accustoms himself not only to speak the truth but even to think only thoughts of truth, then at night he will be shown visions of truth and will have glimpses of the future in the manner of angels.

So why doesn’t everyone adhere to the truth?  The Meiri explains metaphorically that “The truth is heavy; therefore, its bearers are few.”  Moreover, in this world we see how many resha’im seem to succeed in life with their falsehood.  We do not yet see the actualization of the pasuk, “The lips of truth shall be established forever, but a lying tongue is just for a moment” (Mishlei 12:19).

(Excerpted from The Code of Jewish Conduct by Rabbi Yitzchok Silver)

Story(based on a true story)

“Ima?” I head a soft voice call as I was loading the dishwasher.  It was so soft that I almost didn’t hear it over the clank of the plates.  I turned my head and saw my eight-year-old standing by the doorway, so scrunched in on himself that he appeared to be making himself as small as possible.  I quickly dried my hands and approached him, crouching down to his level.

“Um,” he said, twisting his hands against his stomach, “so, y’know, the car?”

Yes, I knew the car.  And I was suddenly very worried.  I felt my eyes harden a bit as I encouraged him on with a strangled, “Uh huh”.

“Y’know how we just got it back from being fixed and Abba parked it all the way up the driveway so no more rocks would hit it when other cars drive by?”

Again, yes.  Our street isn’t in the best shape, and flying small rocks are unfortunately not abnormal.  Last week a car hit a pothole too fast and a small piece of street hit our back window so fast it starred the glass.  We had just had it replaced.

“So”, he continued, “um, so I was playing baseball with Shmuli in the yard, and I never really hit the ball and the car is never there but this time I did hit the ball well, and, um...”

He went silent, and I slowly rose and walked to the side window to see.  There was my van’s side passenger window, starred.  There were a few small shards missing near the center.

I felt the yell rising in my body and smashed it down.  Instead I slowly turned to Aharon and stood solid with arms crossed and began to formulate a calm and measured chastisement for the negligence he had displayed.  But, just before I began to speak, I looked into Aharon’s earnest, pleading face, with his just-beginning-to-wet eyes.  And, in my mind, I saw those same eyes sparkling as he giggled and sang along with his brothers to what had become their favorite song in the past few months:  “Midvar sheker tirchak, never tell a lie.  HaShem knows just what happens, there’s no reason to deny.  Honesty is emes, make sure all your words are true,  So Tatty, Mommy and HaShem will be so proud of you.”

Aharon had told the truth.  And he had come to me, to his mother, before I even asked.  It must have been so tempting to lie; no person saw him, or saw it happen.  If he was asked about it later, he could deny any knowledge easily but instead he told the truth on his own, staying as far from the potential lie as possible.  

Rewarding this mitzva d’oraysa and helping Aharon develop the midda of emes was way more important at that moment than scolding an eight-year-old for not being careful enough with a ball and a car.  I suddenly remembered the lines of the Marvelous Middos Machine song that had struck me most as a parent.  If my child says, “I was jumping on the bed and I poured ketchup on the baby’s head,” I need to be proud, no matter how horrified I am by what he did, because he didn’t say, “Oh no it was not me.’”  I softened my eyes and reached for Aharon.  

“I bet that was scary,” I said.  “So scary,” he agreed, starting to cry.

“Thank you for telling me,” I continued, and wrapped him in a big hug.  That night, my husband and I would put together a set of rules about what not to do in the yard, and we would figure out the best way to talk to Aharon about being careful.  But for that moment, both Aharon and I had won a battle.  The Meiri wrote, “The truth is heavy; therefore, its bearers are few.” I was proud that my son was so strong, and that I stopped to see that.

Discussion Question Options:

In what ways do we accidentally encourage lying in others, particularly children?

How can we help children understand that only isolated incidents allow any untruth, and which ones?

What are some ways to teach a child the rewards of honesty in a world that often rewards the opposite?

Stretch of the Week:

Support a truth a family member tells, even if it is hard to hear.


Stretch Of The Week