Truth or Consequences!
“…There was a thick darkness throughout the land of Egypt…. No man could rise from his place for three days, but for the Jewish People there was light….” (10:22-23)
During the last three days of the plague of Darkness, the Egytptians could not move. They were literally frozen in place from the tangible darkness. The Midrash says that during these three days, Hashem had the Jews enter the homes of the Egyptians. The Jews saw where the Egyptians hid their wealth. Before the Jews left Egypt, they asked the Egyptians for this wealth that they had seen. When the Egyptians pretended they didn’t have anything, the Jews were able to tell them exactly where the items were hidden. However, during these three days of Darkness, while the Egyptians were immobile, not one Jew took advantage to take any item belonging to the Egyptians! When the Egyptians realized that the Jews could have taken anything they wanted without asking they were so impressed at their honesty.
The Orchos Tzaddikim discusses the importance of emulating Hashem and exhibiting honesty to all people. He quotes a Midrash (Devorim 3:3) which relates a story about Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach who purchased a donkey from an Arab. A precious stone was later found hanging on the donkey’s neck. Rabbi Shimon told his students, “I purchased a donkey, not a precious stone!” He went and returned the gem to the Arab. The Arab was very impressed by Rabbi Shimon’s honesty and exclaimed, “Blessed is the G-d of Shimon ben Shetach!” The Orchos Tzaddikim also quotes a story from the Talmud (Yevamos 63A). Rav’s wife would constantly act contrary to his wishes. When he would ask her to serve him lentils, she would serve him peas; if he asked her for peas, she would serve him lentils. When Rav’s son, Chiya, grew up, he would reverse the requests that Rav had asked him to convey to his wife. Chiya did it out of respect for his father. That way Rav would get what he had wanted. When Rav found out what his son was doing he told him not to do it anymore. Rav quoted a pasuk to his son, “They have taught their tongue to speak lies….” (Jeremiah 9:4). Chiya’s intentions were noble. He wanted his father to get what he had asked for. Chiya also wanted to foster peace between his parents. Yet, Rav was concerned that this type of behavior may lead his son to becoming a liar. He was concerned that a breach in honesty would eventually lead to dishonesty.
Rav Henach Leibowitz zt”l points out, we know that there are times that one is permitted to “lie” for the sake of promoting peace. In those instances, it is a mitzvah to do so. However, there is a very fine line distinguishing when one may “lie” and when one may not. Rav Leibowitz zt”l says that is only through the teachings of the Torah that we can find the proper balance of when we are permitted to “lie”. Even more so, if the lines between honesty and falsehood are blurred, one’s actions will suffer. One can think he is doing the right thing when in reality it is wrong. Rav Leibowitz zt”l quoted two sources to prove his point. Avrohom’s servant, Eliezer, went to the house of Besuel, to find a wife for Yitzchak. Eliezer asked them, “If you intend to do kindness and truth with my master, tell me…”. The Sforno explains what Eliezer was saying. Let me know if you intend to do kindness to Avraham by sending your daughter far away. Let me know if you intend to act with truth by doing what is in the best interests of your daughter, Rivkah. It would be a big honor for her to become part of the illustrious family of Avraham. Rav Leibowitz zt”l asks, what does this have to do with truth? Wouldn’t it be a lack of kindness not to do what was best for Rivkah? Rav Leibowitz zt”l answers, that Rivkah’s family was entrusted to take care of her. If they would not do what is best for her, that would be violating their trust. That would be a violation of truth. Similarly, if we are entrusted with something to do, it would be a violation of truth if we would not do the assignment the best way that we can. The Ibn Ezra explains “truth” as ensuring that the act of kindness is done. Rav Leibowitz zt”l learns an important concept from this. One may be very kind, always looking to help others. However, his kindness may not last. Once the initial excitement dies down or once things become a little difficult, he may stop doing the act of kindness. However, if he is a person of truth, he will abide by his word and make sure that he completes his act of kindness.
A truthful person will try to do that which is right. He will work hard, attempting to complete the acts of kindness that he started.