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Matot(Numbers 30:2-32:42)


"The tongue is the pen of the heart."
--  Bachya Ibn Pekudah (11th century Spanish Rabbi)

"If a man makes a vow to God, or makes an oath to obligate himself, he must not break his word. He must do all that he expressed verbally." (Numbers 30:3)

Rav Yaacov Weinberg zt"l pointed out that the literal translation of the above verse is, "He must not profane his word." The Torah is implying there is something special about that which proceeds from your mouth. Not fulfilling what you say is not just a question of breaking your word, but has a far more meaningful effect.

The opposite of profane is holy. If you don't profane your words then they are by default, holy.

Animals don't speak because their communication only serves for the purpose of survival. For that you don't need words. Words achieve a far more noble goal, they are the medium by which we connect our inside world with the outside one, and alternatively, by which we absorb the outside world into our inside one. We have the potential to change when we use and listen to words.

Therefore the liar has broken a vital link with the world around him. He has destroyed (profaned) the value of speech. The liar therefore says words without any comprehension of what they mean to him and therefore can say ridiculous and obvious untruths. Eventually he will drown in the confusion of who he is and what life means.

Shakespeare proclaimed, "Above all else, to thine own self be true." The Jewish concept is rather different, being true to oneself is only possible IF to others you are true.

In a similar vein, our Sages explain that it is important to teach your mouth to say "I don't know." Just as saying "please" and "thank you" change a person and make them more grateful, similarly, "I don't know" creates an inner humility.

I remember going with my son to the airport. The security officer asked me the standard questions (this was before 9/11) amongst them: "Did anyone give you anything to take on your journey?"

I answered in the affirmative. This created quite a commotion, the officer seemed to be unsure what to do next, she rushed away and took some time returning, only to nervously type something into her computer.

Eventually I asked, "Is there something wrong?"

"Yes!" She was not pleased, "I never got that answer before and I don't have the protocol for it."

I laughed. I said to her, "Do you think most people are telling the truth, or lying?"

"Lying." She answered.

Now let me ask you a question, would you lie to your son?

Then how can you lie WITH your son?

How about teaching him to lie?

If you lie, it's not simply that you have said something that is untrue. It's much worse than that, you have made yourself a liar.

A liar can't teach his children to be true.

"When everything depends on just one tiny lie,
we forget that in order to correct one lie,
seven others have to be told." (Shevat Yehudah)


* * *


Question 1: Think of a time when you lied in order to get ahead. If you could, would you prefer to be a person that never lied, or to remain as you are? Why?

Question 2: Have you ever lied to someone very close to you and harmed that relationship?

Question 3: Look back over your life; have you ever lied to yourself?

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Visitor Comments: 4

(4) Donna M Gale, July 21, 2011 9:12 PM

Very Thought-provoking!

I was confronted with a portion within me that I didn't know existed. It was very thought-provoking, and has caused be to bbe very meditative, and repentant.

(3) Rabbi Baars, July 11, 2010 3:41 PM

David Braustein - The exception

For sure there are times you can and should lie, Shalom Bayis, Yaacov and Isaac, the Halacha explains that. But it is the exception that needs strong justification, or it becomes the habit. Generally speaking, people don't lie unless they feel there is a good reason, therefore you need a very strong reason to lie.

(2) David Braunstein, July 10, 2010 3:23 PM

The exception to the rule

"He must not profane his word" is a powerful concept. Telling the truth to an enemy in combat could cost many lives. Children in desperate circumstances are sometimes shielded from the truth so that they can enjoy being a child. Lying has an important role; otherwise, why does G-d give us that ability? I believe that more important than always telling the truth is to keep your speech holy to sound the greater good.

(1) Anonymous, July 6, 2010 9:28 PM


This is an awesomely simple essay on truth. Thank you.

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