Going, Going, GONE!
An oft-heard philosophical question we have all asked at one time or another is: “What is the purpose of life?”
From hedonists to theologians, the answers vary widely.
The Jewish people however do not have to dig too deeply or search the vast oceans for a response. In fact, G-d Himself gave them the answer: The purpose of a Jew is to be a witness, not to a crime, but to a calling sublime: "You are My witnesses," says the L-rd.” (Isaiah 43: 10)
No other religion has ever made the claim, as does the Torah, that more than one person heard G-d reveal Himself to them. The Divine revelation to the Jewish people was not a one-man show. Approximately 3.6 million Jews stood at the foot of Mount Sinai and heard the voice of G-d. Witnesses all. No lawyer with that many unanimous witnesses, all in agreement as to what they beheld, would ever lose a case.
Now the question is: What is the one moral responsibility of any witness at any time? The answer: To tell the truth!
And so, the Jewish people are tasked with telling the truth in every aspect of their lives. As vessels who carry and deliver the holy words of Hashem’s Torah, they must not taint themselves with lies. And thus, the Torah instructs us, “Distance yourself from falsehood.” (Shemot 23:7)
Interestingly, in Hebrew, the letters which precede and follow letters in any given word are related. For example, the word for witness is eid which is spelled ayin, dalet. The letters in the Aleph Bet following the ayin and dalet respectively, pey and hey, spell the word peh: mouth. The Chosen People are here to speak about what they witnessed at Sinai; for every Jewish soul, born and unborn, was at Sinai, and that is why the truth rumbles in our souls just as the mountain rumbled the day G-d spoke to His treasured nation. But falsehoods mute the calling of truth.
Unfortunately, we live in a world which the Jewish sages call alma deshikra, a world of lies.
Today, the dishonesty of the world seems to be worse than ever. In 2002, a study showed that the average person lies about two to three times in a 10-minute conversation. Current studies reveal we are lied to 10 to 200 times a day.
Although more recent studies indicate that people do
not lie as much as earlier thought, I think their results are a lie. With social media sites, our fast-moving world and our constant postings, it is certain we are whitewashing our lives for public consumption more than ever.
Isn’t photo-shopping a picture a lie? Isn’t posting your wrong weight or age on a singles site not a lie? Isn’t pretending that you never saw the text someone sent you not a lie?
We are what we do and if we lie, we are liars. The Torah tells us to distance ourselves from lies, and that includes dishonest people and matters, as well as our own untruths. Not doing so is a disgrace of G-d, called chillul Hashem.
When others see that a Jew behaves and speaks honestly, it serves as a positive testament to G-d. Therefore, being dishonest is not only a transgression of G-d’s will, but also undermines the reason a Jew was created. In other words, Mission NOT Accomplished.
Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel said, "The world stands on three things: on justice, on truth and on peace.” (Pirkei Avos 1: 17) Thus, when truth is a casualty in the game of life, the world itself hangs in the balance.
According to Kabbalah, everything we do in the physical world has its impact in the spiritual realms. Every word we say affects the upper worlds. Every word is carried up and judged, as is every sigh.
When we lie and use words in a harmful way here on earth, we destroy upper worlds. No word is lost. “He recounts to a person every word he spoke.” (Amos 4:13).
Our Sages teach that G-d created the world with words. With falsehoods we take the very same tools G-d used to create and we destroy instead. Our job is to imitate G-d, and not to work in contrary motion to His Will or His Ways.
Of course, there are times when we should lie, and our Sages outlined them:
One circumstance when it is permitted to lie is to make peace or keep peace when there is absolutely no other way to achieve that goal.
We may lie to avoid hurting a person. For example, we may say that the bride is beautiful even if this is not true.
We may also lie when dealing with someone who is attempting to trick us. We may trick him in turn to protect ourselves.
We may lie to save our lives.
We may not expand on these liberties casually and we should consult a rabbi when we are uncertain if lying is permitted in a specific situation.
“Tell them I’m not home,” or “the check is in the mail,” are not acceptable lies.
“The L-rd G-d is truth” says the prophet Jeremiah (10:10) and the Torah is truth. How then can we shine with the light of His image while we stand in the shadows of falsehood and lies?
The Jewish nation is to serve as a testament to the Divine. Therefore, we should not bear false witness in any of our ways. For “The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies, neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth.” (Zechariah 3:13)