Parshas Mishpatim: The Infinite Value of Truth

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Mishpatim, the Torah outlines a total of fifty-three mitzvos, presented to us in the immediate aftermath the giving of the Torah in Parshas Yisro.  While Parshas Yisro and Matan Torah were the “fire and lights show” of Revelation, Parshas Mishpatim is full of the “mundane” laws that govern our daily lives as Jews.

Of the myriad of mitzvos commanded to us – most of which are bein adam la’chavairo, laws that govern interaction between man and fellow man – the Torah instructs us: מִדְּבַר־שֶׁ֖קֶר תִּרְחָ֑ק, from a word of falsehood, distance yourself (Shemos 23:7).  If the Torah needs to instruct us regarding such an obvious matter, one which we might assume to be “common sense,” then we are reminded that “common sense is not common,” and that the wisdom of Torah guides and dictates our every word and action.

On this mitzvah, Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski zt’l teaches, “There are many rabbinic ordinances enacted as precautionary measures to prevent one from transgressing a Scriptural prohibition.  However, this is the only instance where the Torah itself adds a precautionary measure.  It is not satisfied with saying, ‘You shall not lie to one another’ (Vayikra 19:11 – וְלֹֽא־תְשַׁקְּר֖וּ אִ֥ישׁ בַּֽעֲמִיתֽוֹ), but here the Torah adds, ‘Distance yourself from a false word.’  Just what is meant by ‘distance yourself’?  

“It means that one should act in a way that there will be no need to lie.  Think about what you are about to do.  Is there a possibility that you may at some time have to deny that you did it?  If so, then do not do it.  That is how you can distance yourself from falsehood.  The prophet equates G-d with truth (Yirmiyahu 10:10).  Any breach of truth draws one away from G-d.”

Furthermore, the Sages explicitly tell us that “the seal of Hashem is truth”: חוֹתָמוֹ שֶׁל הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אֱמֶת (Shabbos 55a).  And we know that the Alef Beis, the letters which make up lashon hakodesh, and through which the world was created, (see Rashi to Bereishis 2:23) begins with alef, ends with tav, and the middle letter is mem.  Alef-mem-tav, which spells emes, truth, is the mark of lashon ha’kodesh.  

Continues Rabbi Dr. Twerski, “There may be a short term gain from lying, but the only long term profit is in truth.”  Rabbi Twerski relates the following vignette: R’ Refael of Bershed (d.1826, most famous for his commitment to truth) was delivering a sermon on the evils of falsehood, when one of the congregants left the room.  The man later explained to the rebbe, “Rabbi, you were making me feel unbearable guilty.  I am a retail merchant, and I cannot tell the whole truth about my wares.  Do you expect me to close my shop and go begging?”  R’ Refael replied, “You will not sustain a great loss if you tell the truth about an item on which you make only a one kopek profit.  Just tell the truth about such items for a week, and then come back to me.”

After one week, the man reported to the rebbe that he had indeed told the truth about one-kopek-profit items.  “Good,” said R’ Refael, “now you will have no difficulty in telling the truth about two-kopek-profit items.”  In this way, the man eventually told the truth about all of his merchandise.  His reputation as an honest merchant garnered him a large clientele, and he earned much more than he would have had he continued to lie about his products.

Concludes R’ Dr. Twerski, “The Sages say that a wise person is one who sees the outcome of their actions (Tamid 32a).  This does not mean that one should be a prophet.  Wisdom consists of seeing the long term consequences of one’s actions rather than just the immediate effects.

“Distancing oneself from falsehood not only prevents one from transgressing the prohibition of lying, but also results in behavior that is both ethical and profitable” (Twerski on Chumash, p.154-155).  

The final mishnah of perek alef in Pirkei Avos teaches: עַל שְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים הָעוֹלָם עוֹמֵד, עַל הַדִּין וְעַל הָאֱמֶת וְעַל הַשָּׁלוֹם, – upon three things does the world stand: on justice, and on truth, and on peace.   Without these three elements, the world simply could not continue to exist.  

HaRav Yisroel Meir Lau shlita, in his commentary to Pirkei Avos, points out that when the pasuk describes creation, it says: And Elokim said, תַּֽדְשֵׁ֤א הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ דֶּ֗שֶׁא, let the earth sprout vegetation (Bereishis 1:11).  The word for vegetation, דֶּ֗שֶׁא, can be interpreted as an acronym for: דין שלום אמתjustice, peace and truth, for without the earth sprouting the potential for these three elements to exist, the world itself could not remain in existence!

Not only will truth make us more ethical, honest, fair and righteous people, but it will improve our standing in the eyes of fellow man, and certainly in the eyes of G-d!

Mark Twain was noted to have said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” One lie becomes another, and another, until a web of lies have been created, and it becomes difficult to remember what we have said, and to whom.

Winston Churchill was noted to have said, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”  With technology today, we must be even more vigilant to be sure that before we press “send,” what we are about to share is indeed the emes.  And that it is a truth of kindness.  And if it is not, then better to delete the message and keep it to ourselves, rather than risk ruining the life of someone else, and our own reputation.  

The wisdom of Torah precedes all wisdom.  From the moment of creation, Hashem implanted the koach of truth into our world.  Let us be sure indeed, to stay far away from falsehoodמִדְּבַר־שֶׁ֖קֶר תִּרְחָ֑ק – and to uphold the seal of G-d (keviyachol) in our world and in our lives.

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום, 


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