1 Posted by - February 11, 2015 - Parsha, Shemot


Parashat Mishpatim

מדבר שקר תרחק Distance yourself from deceitful words. The Torah does not warn us to distance ourselves from any sin except this one: lying. What does this mean, to distance yourself from deceit?

The Peleh Yoetz, on the word Sheker, gives us a gem for developing social skills. We will get to the gem soon. First, the Peleh Yoetz tells us the severity of lying: that it is similar to idolatry. (Sanhedrin 92a) A proper Jew is honest. He continues, saying that if a child was accused of doing something wrong and he admits his error, he should not be punished. But, if he  denies what he has done and is caught lying, he deserves severe punishment.

The Peleh Yoetz tells the story of the fellow who sinned “all the sins in the Book” and came to a Rabbi, to ask for a way to repent . The Rabbi suggested that he take upon himself just one law from the Torah : to never, ever lie. By keeping just this one law, he became a complete penitent, for he would refrain from sin, just so that he would not need to lie to prevent himself from embarrassment. (Note that whenever we pray to G-d for forgiveness, we always ask that we be forgiven for one merit. For the merit of honesty, of admitting that we have sinned).

And he continues. It is known that the crime of causing another person to sin is worse than killing him. (Bamidbar Rabbah 21, 4)  Therefore, one should not ask his friend to reveal a secret that he may know  and would not want to reveal. People will sometimes lie, just to evade embarrassment of saying, “I do not want to reveal the secret.” Also, do not ask a friend to borrow something that he might not want to lend you, for, out of embarrassment, he may lie and say that he does not have it.

A friend from England once relayed to me an experience that he had when he was in Yeshiva high school. The Yeshiva cook had been busy preparing for a Kiddush, making chicken nuggets for 100 people, so he offered a skimpy lunch that Thursday. He served a big tub of tuna fish for the whole yeshiva, and heated up the stale left-over bread from breakfast. Our stomachs groaned. One of the boys approached the Yeshiva kitchen, asking the cook for a favor.  In an innocent tone of voice, he said, ” I love having my tuna fish with red peppers. Can I go into the kitchen to get some?” No problem. He fills his arms with 8 big, red peppers and enters the walk-in refrigerator, the Holy Ark of the Chicken Nuggets. He pulls out a disposable plastic knife from his jacket pocket and does the unthinkable: neatly slicing open the peppers and emptying out the inside, he filled them with chicken nuggets, neatly closing them again. Thanking the cook for his generosity in regards to the peppers, the “hero” walked out of the kitchen towards the dining room with a shining smile to match his 8 shining peppers. As he reached the table, he laid down the precious peppers and uncovered his hidden treasure: plenty for himself and for his fellow pirates!

Within a few minutes, there was a long queue outside the Yeshiva kitchen. Suddenly, everyone wanted red peppers “for their tuna fish”. Within no time, the chicken nuggets were totally devoured, right under the cook’s nose!” When the cook entered the walk-in refrigerator and discovered what had happened, he could not keep his dismay to himself . So, he let out his fury to the school administrator.

The administrator announced that whoever had partaken the chicken nuggets was to report to the yeshiva office, immediately, to receive punishment. No one showed up. The administrator then shocked us all. The entire class was to wait outside the office, to undergo interrogation. We had no idea what his lie detector was. We opened the door a crack, and we saw it. A bottle of milk and twenty two cups. If you did not eat the chicken nuggets, have a glass of milk. If you refuse the milk, you will be accused as the chicken nugget thief, and you will need to accept your punishment.

Quickly, one of the boys ran to the yeshiva pay phones, and “prank called” the office. “Hello, this is Mr. Gold. Can I speak with the school administrator?” The administrator was paged and left his office. One of the classmates ran into the office and pushed the bottle of milk deep inside one of the big desk drawers. The administrator returned to his seat, but the milk was gone. He just let us all go.

Although the method used to find the guilty party was clever, it was certainly damaging to the boys. I can understand the teenage classmates. But I do not understand the yeshiva administrator. How could he put 16- year-olds under such a test, knowing that, out of embarrassment or fear, someone might eat chicken and then milk, a rabbinic prohibition? One thing for sure, this administrator was not popular with his students.

People who have good relationships with others do not ask something that will create an awkward position. They have a certain gentleness that radiates an unspoken trust to their friends and family – a respect that includes never putting others into a compromising position.  Never creating a situation in which others will feel tempted to lie, in order to avoid embarrassment.

Sociable people build relationships on trust; it’s comfortable when they are around.  Trust is the basis for lasting friendships.   And this is what is alluded to meant in the Torah, מדבר שקר תרחק, distance yourself from deceitful words.  Keep yourself far away from a lie – so far that you do not even put another person in a position that he may consider lying to prevent extreme embarrassment.


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