Doubtful Dishonesty

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by R. Moshe Kurtz

Lomdus on the Parsha: Ki Savo

Based on the Acclaimed Sefer Chavatzeles HaSharon

Q: Is a possible lie a lie?

When it happens that you come to the land that Hashem, your God, is giving you as territory, and you inherit it and settle it; You are to take of the first of all the fruits of the soil that you bring from your land, that Hashem, your God, is giving you, and place [it] in a basket; and go to the place that Hashem, your God, chooses to house His Presence there. You are to come to the priest who will be [of service] during those days and you will say to him, ‘‘I ascertain today to Hashem, your God, that I have arrived in the land that Hashem swore to our forefathers to give us.’’ The priest shall then take the basket from your hand, and he will place it before the altar of Hashem, your God. (Deuteronomy 26:1-4)

There is a principle that manifests itself in many areas of Jewish law called kol ha’raui lebilah ein bilah m’akeves bo: as long as the right qualifications or pre-requisites are in place, the mitzvah is considered fulfilled absent an actual utilization of those elements. We will provide several instances to illustrate this concept:

(1) The titular example of this principle is the opinion of Rabbi Zeira in Menachos (103b) that any measure of flour that is suitable for mixing with oil in a meal (minchah) offering, the lack of mixing does not disqualify the meal offering.

(2) While a woman who is immersing in the mikvah does not need to open her mouth to allow water to enter between her teeth, the teeth still need to be clean enough that, in theory, water would be able to enter unimpeded. Therefore, if a small bone becomes lodged between her teeth her immersion would be ineffective since it is not rui l’bias mayim, the water is categorically unable to enter (see Kiddushin 25a).

(3) Upon hearing one’s wife take an oath, the husband may elect to annul it. While he does not literally have to hear her declare the oath, he needs to be able to hear. Thus, it is questionable whether one who is deaf can annul his wife’s vows since he does not possess the potential to hear his wife’s declaration (see Nedarim 73a).

(4) In a similar fashion, Tosafos (Yevamos 31b, s.v. Dechazu) suggests that even though a witness may submit written testimony, that is only because he is capable of actually giving it orally. Whereas one who is mute is categorically disqualified from submitting written testimony since he is unable to speak (see Gittin 71a).

(5) In the debate between Rava and Abaye at the beginning of Tractate Sukkah (2a) we learn that a sukkah made from sturdy iron still constitutes a temporary dwelling so long as it remains under twenty amos (unit of measurement). A sukkah above twenty amos can only be made with robust materials, whereas a sukkah under twenty amos which could be made in a less sturdy fashion does not require its walls to be made from temporary material – since such dimensions are categorically unestablished.

(6) In the third chapter of Tractate Sukkah, the Meiri (Sukkah 37b) notes that even though one can already fulfill the mitzvah of taking the Four Species simply by picking them up (Sukkah 42a), the lulav (date-palm), hadasim (myrtle) and aravos (willow) still have minimal heights to ensure that one is able to shake them.

(7) Now that we have a robust sense of the concept of kol ha’raui l’bilah let us address the case of Bikkurim, bringing of the First Fruits to the Temple, which is described in our Torah portion. The Talmud (Makkos 18b; Bava Basra 81b) teaches us that the ideal time to bring the First Fruits is between the holidays of Shavuos and Sukkos. If one neglected to bring their First Fruits then, they may still offer them until Chanukah, albeit without reciting the special passages outlined at the beginning of our Torah portion. However if one actually designated his First Fruits before Sukkos but waited until after the holiday then those fruits become disqualified since they were once able to be brought together with its special reading and now they are no longer able to be brought with that component.

In the case of safek Bikkurim, when it is not clear whether certain fruits qualify as First Fruits, one is not permitted to be “stringent” and read the prescribed verses in any event. The Gemara is puzzled – what could possibly be wrong with reciting verses from the Torah? The Gemara explains that by reciting these verses on that which possibly does not meet the criteria of First Fruits it would lned itself to the appearance of falsehood (d’michzi k’shikra).

R. Mordechai Carlbeach provides a novel understanding of the prohibition to lie. It says in the verse “distance yourself from falsehood” (Exodus 23:7).  The Mesilas Yesharim (Ch. 11) observes that the Torah did not simply instruct us to guard ourselves from falsehood, but to distance ourselves from it. Based on this formulation, R. Carlebach proposes that even coming close to falsehood, such as in the case of  something that is doubtfully dishonest, still constitutes a definite transgression of “distance yourself from falsehood.” Thus, reciting the verses of the First Fruits when there is a potential for falsehood would be an absolute violation of not distancing oneself from dishonesty. How far we must go to maintain sterling honesty and integrity. 

Endnote: It is not so clear cut that the verse of “distance yourself from falsehood” is a general prohibition. Its parameters might be more circumscribed than how it is commonly employed. See Challenging Assumptions (Ch. 11) in which I address whether there is a license to lie for the sake of Jewish education and outreach.

Note: This series is not intended to dispense practical halachic conclusions. The Torah presented here is but a small extraction from the breadth of the sefer Chavatzeles HaSharon and is not affiliated with the author in any official capacity. Translations are adapted from Sefaria,, Mechon Mamre, and my  own. Contact: [email protected] 

About Moshe Kurtz

Rabbi Moshe Kurtz is Assistant Rabbi at Congregation Agudath Sholom of Stamford, CT. He welcomes questions, feedback and speaking requests at: [email protected].

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