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Living a Torah Life of Honesty and Integrity - Part 1

by Rabbi Paysach Krohn on behalf of the Sefas Tamim Foundation


The Sefas Tamim Foundation is a new, wonderful organization whose sole focus is to emphasize everyday Emes: in thought, in speech and in business matters. On behalf of the Foundation, and in a series of articles, I look forward B’ezeras Hashem, to discussing this fundamental Mitzvah with you, its source, its parameters and its impact on ourselves, our children and the world around us.

An Issur D’araisa

First we must note that Emes is not merely a “middah tova” or “midda chassidus”, the Chofetz Chaim holds that falsehood is an Issur D’araisa. The Torah teaches us in Parshas Mishpatim, “Midvar Sheker Tirchak” – distance yourself from a false word. As has been stated by many, with respect to no other admonition does the Torah require you to “stay clear”.

Frankly, it is not easy to avoid falsehood on a consistent basis. We routinely rationalize our false words and actions claiming that they are but justifiable “little white lies” or innocent exaggerations. The Gemara in Shabbos (104a) notes that the letters spelling “Sheker” -- are very close to one another in the aleph bais – they are unfortunately close and commonplace to us all. However, as the Maharal notes in his Nesivos Olam, if you remove just a little bit from Emes, i.e., take away that little aleph, you are left with “Mes” (death). There is no such thing as just a “little white lie”.

Perhaps it is for this reason that Chazal organized our daily Tefillos with a foucs on Emes. Three times each day, we conclude our Shemonah Esrai with a plea to Hashem to “Guard Our Tongues From Evil and Our Lips from Speaking Deceit”. Three times each day, in the Tefilah of Ashrei, Dovid Hamelech reminds us that: “Hashem is close to those who call upon Him, with Emes.” And Rabbeinu Bachiya tells us, that for those who strengthen and maintain themselves in Emes, their Tefillos are answered.

Impacting Our Children

Our most fervent prayer is that Hashem bless us with healthy, ehrliche children who will live in the ways of Torah.

So often we conduct ourselves without a full appreciation that what we say and do have an enormous affect on our children’s development. In fact, we often wonder how a child can Chas V’shalom go off the Derech. A perspective offered by Reb Yehuda Zev Segal is one that we may not have considered. He quotes and explains Reb Mendel Rimonover and says that children go off the Derech because they are eating food that is considered Traif i.e. food that was obtained from money that was earned dishonestly.

Children are mimics. The story is told of the grade school Rebbie who had to call the father of one of his students to tell him that his young son was stealing pencils from the other boys in the class. The father responded in bewilderment: “Rebbie, I can’t understand why my son is stealing pencils from his friends. I bring home so many pencils from the office – why would he need any more?” Or the young accountant who sat at my Shabbos table one week and mentioned how easy it was to sometimes “turn away” when things did not appear quite right in the books. He followed up this observation with a recollection from his youth. When his bicycle was stolen, he overheard his parents’ plan to submit an insurance claim and to inflate the value of the bicycle to increase the recovery from the insurance company. Lesson learned?

And make no mistake, our children are quick studies. Reb Yehuda Winder told me the story that as a Rebbie in the lower grades, he told his young student, let’s call him “Moshe”, not to touch his loose tooth, as it would bleed and fall out. Ultimately, Moshe touched his tooth and it fell out. Later that day, Reb Winder saw another child carrying Moshe’s tooth. “What are you doing with Moshe’s tooth?” Reb Winder asked. The other student replied, “I’m giving it to my father. You see, Moshe’s father only gives him a quarter for every tooth. My father gives me a dollar. I’ll give Moshe’s tooth to my father and tell him it’s mine and then I will split the difference with Moshe!”

Deceit may also leave permanent scars. I am reminded of the story of Mrs. Wikler who told me of her experience in the 8th grade. Her teacher said that whoever learns Parshas Haazinu by heart, would receive a prize. Our 8th grader, worked for many hours to memorize the Parsha, but the promised prize never came. She told me that to this very day, and she is now a grandmother, she feels a sense of regret every year that Hazinu is read in shul. The pain of an unkept promise can last forever.

Of course, a child’s positive images of Emes in the home can also last forever. At my Shabbos table, a young Baalas Teshuva from Boston recalled that as a young child, she admitted to her mother that she had not told the truth. Upon hearing the admission, her mother’s face turned ashen white and she responded in astonishment: “You mean you lied?” This young woman told me that ever since that day, whenever there has arisen a temptation to lie, she sees that image of her mother and she has never lied since.

Let us always be aware of what we say and do, and keep ourselves distant from Sheker. Hashem is listening, and so are those around us.

I look forward in future issues, B’ezras Hashem, to discuss other important dimensions of this fundamental Mitzvah.

For more information on the Sefas Tamim Foundation and its mission of emphasizing everyday Emes, please contact Boruch Delman at 718-200-5462 or info@everydayemes.org.

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