June 11, 2024
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June 11, 2024
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The Torah admonishes us to keep away from falsehood (Shemot 23:7). Mishlei (30:8) warns us: “Keep falsehood and lies far away from me.” While lying and deception are frowned upon, apparently, it is more widely practiced than we may care to admit.

R’ Yisrael Belsky, a”h, had a series of lectures about the areas where we may be tempted to act deceptively. How many of us are completely honest when filling out our tax returns? How many of us share our Netflix or online accounts with others so that they should not have to pay? How many parents fudge the truth about their income so that they can obtain an undeserved yeshiva tuition break? How many of us perform personal business on the computer when we are at work? Years ago, software was made available so that we could make copies of digital music and videos, bypassing copyright and payment rights. One of my co-workers illegally downloaded over 25,000 oldies songs this way, avoiding having to pay for any of them.

The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology documented findings that most people lie many times a day. Sometimes it may be a “little white lie” to socially smooth things over. For example, a parent may not want to take a phone call and asks his child to tell the caller that they are not home. Lying and deception have become increasingly pervasive in our culture. Many students now cheat regularly in school. Many adults bend the rules when it comes to paying their taxes. Many couples tell little white lies to each other, and many children aren’t completely honest with their parents. Doctors may sometimes be tempted to “upcode” their procedures so that they will get a reasonable rate of reimbursement from the insurance companies. Lawyers are always under pressure to create “billable hours” of work.

Throughout Bereishit we are intrigued by various stories of lies and deception. For example, we read that Avraham deceives both Pharaoh and King Avimelech, saying that his wife, Sarah, is really his sister. Avraham believed that if not for this “white lie,” Sarah would have been taken for immoral purposes and he would have been murdered. He apparently believed that deception in such circumstances was not only ethically defensible, it was a moral obligation, in order to preserve a life—his own.

We see several additional examples of deception throughout Bereishit:

Yitzchak is deceived by Yaakov into giving him the blessing meant for Esav. He is prompted and aided by Rivka.

Yitzchak is deceived by Rivka, who claims that she wants to send Yaakov away for marriage purposes when it is really to save Yaakov’s life.

Lavan fools Yaakov into marrying Leah before Rachel—thus getting her married first and gaining seven more “free” years of labor from Yaakov.

Rachel lies to her father about the idols she stole from his house.

Lavan manipulates Yaakov’s wages “10 times.”

Yaakov misleads Esav about his plans to join him in Se’ir.

The sons of Yaakov dupe the citizens of Shechem into a mass circumcision—and then kill all the men and pillage the town in revenge for the rape of Dina.

Yosef’s brothers fool their father into thinking that Yosef has been killed by an animal.

Tamar fools Yehudah into thinking that she is a harlot.

Potiphar’s wife lies to her husband, getting Yosef thrown into the royal jail.

Yosef has his brothers lie to Pharaoh about their source of livelihood, saying they were merely shepherds.

The brothers lie to Yosef about Yaakov’s deathbed wishes.

R’ Yissocher Frand tells us that cheating and deceiving are antithetical to the soul and are destructive to our character. He references the Gemara (Sotah 49b) that tells us that one of the hallmarks of living in the Messianic age is the disappearance of truth. R’ Shimshon Rafael Hirsch once commented that some Jews have become reverse Marranos. The Marranos were gentiles on the outside but Jews on the inside. Unfortunately, some of us have become Jews on the outside but act otherwise on the inside. We may look the part but may lack the underlying substance and character.

This past year, the Sefas Tamim Foundation was created. It is an organization whose sole focus is to emphasize everyday truth (emet) in thought, speech and in business matters. They have recruited famous Jewish authors and rabbis to spread the word and get people to start thinking about the centrality of being honest in their everyday dealings.

Is lying or deception to be condoned? Is it to be condemned? This is probably one of the more difficult concepts that we struggle with. What is right and what is wrong? May Hashem help us answer these questions for ourselves so that we are able to live righteous lives with a clear conscience.

Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic, clinical psychologist in private practice. He is vice president of the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club of NY/NJ. He leads the Summit Avenue Shabbos Gemara shiur and minyan in Fair Lawn, NJ, and is a member of the International Rabbinical Society. He can be reached at [email protected].

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