We know that lying is wrong and we want to tell the truth. But we might not realize how easy it is to 'forget the truth' and let slip a 'little white lie' when it seems more comfortable or convenient. When God tells us in this week's portion not to lie to each other, He also means those 'little' lies, even when it's not convenient. The Torah wants to help us be truthful through and through.
In our story, a kid finds out the truth about lying.
"I DIDN'T 'REAL-LIES'"
To tell you the truth, I always thought of myself as a truthful person - and I am - but what happened the other day gave me a bit of a shock and made me realize there's more to telling the truth than meets the eye.
I was about to head off to the mall to return a broken CD player I had gotten for my bat mitzvah last week. I wanted to look up the store hours to make sure they were going to be open when I got there, so I asked my sister, Wendy, if I could take a quick peek at the ad they had in the newspaper she was reading.
I glanced at the headlines and read about another politician caught lying. "Lying is disgusting!" I said.
"You're right, but it's also one of the hardest things not to do. Almost everybody trips up on things they don't even realize."
I probably should have just kept my mouth closed, but instead I piped up. "Well I, for one, do NOT lie."
Wendy and I have always been a little competitive, so I wasn't surprised when she challenged me and said, "I'll bet you a week's worth of clearing the table that you can't even go 24 hours without saying something not true. Pay close attention to your day, and let's see how you do!"
"It's a bet!" I said, figuring I had just saved myself a week of dish clearing.
I rushed out to catch my bus to the mall. I made it to the bus stop just in time, and jumped on the bus. I opened up my wallet to buy a ticket.
"Child or adult?" the driver asked.
On our bus line, kids under 12 could get tickets for half price. Now even though I was 'officially' twelve already, being a little on the petite side, I could easily pass for ten and knew the driver wouldn't even blink if I asked for the cheaper ticket.
I was about to say 'child' then I remembered my bet with Wendy. But this wasn't really a lie, was it? I mean just one measly week ago I was under 12, and I even knew about a kid who was 14 and still riding on the children's discount. Still, I had to admit it wasn't true... The driver was looking at me impatiently. "Um, adult," I said, and grudgingly peeled an extra dollar out of my wallet.
I got to the electronics store at the mall, and the salesperson greeted me with a cheery smile. I wondered if she'd still be smiling after she found out I hadn't come to spend money, but to take some back.
"How can we help you today?" she asked. I took out the CD player and explained that it didn't work and I wanted my money back. "No problem," she said, still smiling. She took out a return form and started filling it out. Name... Address...
She got to a line called 'defect description.' "Now this was defective from when you got it, right?" she asked.
Actually, it was defective from the time I dropped it in the sink, but I knew that if I told her that, not only wouldn't I get my money back, but it would probably even void the warranty.
I started to fidget. I mean a bus ticket was one thing, but this was a lot of money. I knew these big chain stores took things back all the time. They expected things like this and weren't going to go bankrupt from my one little CD player. "Um, yeah, that's right," I nodded. She handed me the cash and wished me a nice day.
I was halfway out the mall when my stomach hurt. No matter how I wanted to justify it, the truth was that I, 'the kid who never lied,' had just lied. I could have easily just kept going. After all, I had blown the bet, so at least I could keep the money, right? Wrong. I knew there was no way I could keep both the money, and my self-respect.
I went back into the store. "Forgot something, honey?" asked the salesperson.
I took out the money. This was going to hurt. "Well, um, I forgot that the player I returned really only broke after I bought it, and was maybe even my fault..."
It wasn't as bad as I thought. The salesperson didn't get mad. In fact, she complimented me on my honesty and even let me exchange the broken player for a new one. I got back on the bus, bought a ticket - adult, happy to be telling the truth.
Wendy was clearing dishes from lunch when I walked in. "Well, how did it go?" she asked.
"Let me clear the table," I said, rolling up my sleeves and grabbing the plate from her hand. "Wendy, I can honestly say that it's harder to be honest than I thought."
Q. How did Vickie feel when Wendy bet her she couldn't only tell the truth?
A. She felt like she always told the truth and it would be easy to win.
Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. She saw how easy it was to say a lie without even wanting to do it and felt like she should be more careful from now on.
Q. What new understanding did Vickie gain from her adventure that day?
A. Vickie had seen herself as an honest person who didn't lie. But when she paid more attention she saw how easily she was tempted to say something not true if she would lose out if she didn't. This new understanding gave her the tools to become more genuinely truthful in the future.
Q. Is there ever a time we shouldn't tell the truth?
A. There are a few exceptions. If telling the truth would hurt someone's feelings for no constructive reason, it is permissible to lie. Like if someone is wearing an outfit that you personally can't stand, and she asks you how she looks, you can say she looks good, etc. In addition, we are allowed to lie to save ourselves or someone else from serious danger. But in most normal daily situations, we should only tell the truth even when it's not convenient or comfortable.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Our sages teach that if a person does something he knows is dishonest enough times, eventually he will be convinced it's honest. Do you agree? Why or why not?
A. Deep down, all of us want to be good, honest people, Yet we are tempted by various things to speak and/or act otherwise. That creates an inner contradiction that we can't live with, and the options are to improve our behavior (the best option), but failing that, we will come to deceive ourselves into thinking 'it really isn't so bad,' and eventually, 'that's perfectly okay.'
Q. What can we do, practically to avoid telling lies?
A. One effective technique is to take upon ourselves to go back and correct any untruth we tell someone. E.g. "I just told you 'I'm also cold,' I lied, I'm really not cold at all." etc. This will both make us aware that we lied, and make us uncomfortable enough to stop ourselves in the future. If that is too hard, we can at least tell ourselves 'I just said something not true.'