By: Rabbi Ari Enkin
While lying is certainly a habit that no one should accustom themselves to, there are times however, when it may be justified. Nevertheless, even in such situations it is recommend not to deviate from the truth more than is absolutely necessary. We are taught to keep as far away from lying as possible, and that the seal of God is “truth”. Telling the truth is said to be a segula to be saved from disease and epidemic. Someone who is known to lie will not be believed even when he is telling the truth. Even saying one thing when really intending another is also considered crooked. Lying is so severe that it is considered comparable to the transgression of worshipping idols. It is even forbidden to lie when the result would cause no one any harm or loss. It is forbidden to lie to any human being, Jew or Gentile.
That being said, there are a number of situations when bending the truth may be in order. The most frequently cited example of this is lying in order to bring peace between people. The Talmud relates that when two people had ceased speaking to each other as the result of a dispute, Aharon would go and tell one of the parties that the other individual was deeply distressed at what had taken place. Aharon would then go to the other party and do the same thing. Afterwards, with each one believing that the other had deeply regretted what had transpired, they would embrace and make up the next time they saw each other. Similarly, Yosef’s brothers had lied to him when they said that their father had asked Yosef to forgive them for having sold him off to Egypt. Even in such situations of justifiable lying it is imperative that deviating from the truth will not possibly harm or otherwise disadvantage any of the parties involved. This includes the requirement to omit any “lashon hara” components even if requested regarding them.
It seems from the Talmud that bestowing an undeserved compliment is to be preferred over saying a truth which would insult another person. For example, if one is not interested in eating food that one has been served, it would be permitted to decline the offer by saying that one has recently eaten and not hungry. One should not say that the food one had been served tastes bad and is not how one would have preferred it. It is also permitted to say that an unattractive bride looks beautiful or that ugly clothes that someone had purchased are actually nice.
Additionally, it is permitted to lie out of modesty regarding one’s achievements, both material as well as spiritual ones. Another area where lying might be the right thing to do, is in order to save another person from being embarrassed or harmed. The Midrash relates a famous story to this effect. When Avraham was traveling to Egypt, he hid Sara in a box and lied about the box’s contents when asked about it at customs. Avraham knew that if Sara were to be discovered she would be taken by for immoral purposes.
From a comment on another blog – did you come across any sources on this?
“To see things better from their view, one should imagine his own child has R”L left the path, and can be brought back if some level of dishonesty is cleverly used.
Sure there are folks out there who would say “If it ain’t 100% truth – then his coming back isn’t real, and is worthless, so don’t bring him back that way”, but I would guess that most people would say that if it’s the only choice then it’s better than nothing.
So too, every Jew is G-d’s child, and we must do WHATEVER it takes to save his or her life.”
I think the Mishpetei Hashalom speaks about this, but I did not delve into it.
I like this line, “Telling the truth is said to be a segula to be saved from disease and epidemic.” As though the fact that according to some Rishonim, lying is an issur d’roaisa isn’t enough. Next time I’m considering lying, I’ll have to think: “Don’t do that. Not only may you be transgressing an isur d’oraysa but you won’t get that awesome segula either.
Anyway, it’s interesting that it’s actually a machlokes Rishonim if there is an isur from the Torah at all to lie to someone else (outside of court).
the rambam ramban and rav sadia goan to name a few hold that there is no issur to lie outside of bais din As well as there is no gemara or shulchan orach.
BTW read niv sifsiam by Rav Nachum Yivrov shilta he does a phenomenal job on the subject.
No joke, eh? Sometimes it REALLY takes a ‘chumra’ or ‘segula’ to get people to keep basic d’oraisa mitvos!
Thanks for that. However I am very weary when I hear that something cant be assur, or is muttar, if it is not in Shulchan Aruch.
For example, it doesnt say in Shulchan Aruch that you must have a mechitza in shul, etc. etc. Slippery slope.
One Chassidic leader darshened מדבר שקר תרחק – from sheker, one gets distanced from הקב”ה.
Come to think of it, how far is that from the Chazal about the various כיתות שאינן מקבלין פני השכינה, http://kodesh.snunit.k12.il/b/l/l4411_103a.htm
Another observed (or perhaps this one is not Chassidic) that sheker is the only place where the Torah admonishes us not just to abstain, but to stay far away. That shows how dangerous it is.
I know this is the halachic understanding, but how do we deal with all the lying that goes on in Bereishis by our forefathers? it’s hard to fit all the instances into these exceptions (especially Yaacov’s trick on Yitschak to steal Eisav’s bracha), so do we say that what they did was wrong according to today’s halacha, but not back then?
I know there are some answers proferred (e.g. Yaacov was formed first and deserved the bracha, Rachel stole Lavan’s idols to help him), but they sure seem weak. is there a better alternative?
“from the Talmud that bestowing an undeserved compliment is to be preferred over saying a truth which would insult another person. For example, if one is not interested in eating food that one has been served, it would be permitted to decline the offer by saying that one has recently eaten and not hungry.”
an undeserved compliment is not the same as saying you’ve recently eaten. How do you get from one to the other? (the rationale for kallah na’ah vechasudah is that such matters are subjective, just as whether a purchase is nice is subjective. is whether you’ve eaten recently a subjective statement)?
And if it depends on what the meaing of “recently” and “not hungry” is (I was starving, but then I realized who did the cooking….) …..where does it end? (I don’t think you mean to say that “Recently” and “not hungry” is subjective – rather that it’s preferable to tell a white lie rather than insult someone. So where does that end?)
“Another area where lying might be the right thing to do, is in order to save another person from being embarrassed”
What’s the difference between lying to save someone else embarrassment and lying to save yourself embarrassment? Is there a difference?
And if not, again, where does it end? “I was too embarrassed to say I didn’t do my homework, so I said the dog ate it” – mutar??
BTW I have long-wondered about whether embarrassing others and yourself should be equated (similar to the story they tell about the Chofetz Chaim and telling loshon hara about yourself)
The poskim take the notion that embarrassing others esp brabim is akin to retzicha quite literally. If so, shouldn’t one go to great lengths also not to embarrass oneself – why wouldn’t embarrassing oneself be akin to committing suicide?
Yet in the mussar yeshiva of Navardok, there were, famously, mussar exercises designed to get talmidim to embarrass themselves (going into a bakery to ask for nails, etc.). So it would seem there is some heter.
btw – Aside from the question of embarrassing oneself (maybe one can presume one has mechila from oneself? and not from others?) – how were those mussar exercises not lifnei iver, in terms of getting others to embarrass the talmidim?
“it’s hard to fit all the instances into these exceptions (especially Yaacov’s trick on Yitschak to steal Eisav’s bracha), so do we say that what they did was wrong according to today’s halacha, but not back then? ”
You could say that it was wrong even back then, but that he did teshuva for it (as shown by parshat vayishlach), and/or was punished for it (as shown by parshat vayeshev).
“And if not, again, where does it end? “I was too embarrassed to say I didn’t do my homework, so I said the dog ate it” – mutar??”
Lying for school/work has the indirect effect of stealing from your peers, which is an entirely different problem. In any case, there must be a “reasonableness” test regarding embarrassment, otherwise every mitzvah derabanan could be ignored due to considerations of kavod habriyot.
“If so, shouldn’t one go to great lengths also not to embarrass oneself – why wouldn’t embarrassing oneself be akin to committing suicide?”
By the same token, fasting could be considered akin to suicide. I think the answer is that if you are doing these things to other people without their consent, you are hurting them. Whereas if you do it to yourself, with the right motivations, then you are actually helping yourself – the physical/emotional loss is outweighed by the spiritual gain (a calculation you can’t force upon other people, with a few exceptions such as with your kids).
Your kashes are better than my answers. This is really an area where halacha dances on a hair’s end. I’m just a simple melaket presenting what I find.
we can surely say that Yaacov was wrong, but it is hard when facing the overwhelming majority of interpretations considering the act correct, and the question is whether according to such interpretations, there is an extra-legal right allowing the ends to justify the means when prophecy is involved.
See also the enigmatic sugiya on Sanhedrin 97a (which includes the story within a story: זימנא חדא איקלעי לההוא אתרא וקושטא שמיה)
We have to be careful who we tell this to.
I still remember once, when explaining this concept on lying when one needed to to a female convert who still had a quasi-feminist outlook. I used the example of Avraham and Sarah, with Hashem lying to Avraham, saying that Sarah said that she herself was old rather than the other way around. This was meant to keep Shalom Bayis between them.
This lady deadpans, “Oh! So because of Avraham’s male ego Hashem had to lie! That’s just nice!”
Because of this incident and some others I’ve learned that it’s wiser to keep quiet than to tell Chiddushim to those that may misuse them.