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Beit Midrash Jewish Laws and Thoughts Pathways in Personality Development

20. Distance Yourself from Falsehood

“Distance yourself from that which is false.” This implies that not only should a person avoid outright and deliberate lies, he must distance himself from any semblance of falsehood. That is, a person must be even avoid giving a wrong impression.
Dedicated to the memory of
Hana Bat Haim
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In this lesson we shall discuss the importance of being honest and distancing oneself from falsehood, as it is written, "Distance yourself from that which is false" (Exodus 23:7).
Pathways in Personality Development (52)
Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed
-21 - 19. Revenge and Grudge-bearing
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The Torah uses the expression "distance yourself," which implies that not only should one avoid outright and deliberate lies, one should distance himself from any semblance of falsehood whatsoever. In other words, it is not enough to speak the truth; one must be careful to speak the complete truth, such that nobody listening receives a wrong impression. This, then, is the meaning of "Distance yourself from that which is false."

And our Sages of blessed memory have said (Makkot 24a) that the words 'And he speaks the truth in his heart' (Psalms 15:2) relate to the behavior of R' Safra. It once happened that R' Safra had a certain article to sell, but when someone approached him while he was reciting the Shema, and said to him, "Give me the article for so much and so much money," he did not answer.
The latter, thinking that R' Safra did not want to give him the object for that sum, continued, "Give it to me for so much and so much more." After completing the Shema, R' Safra said to him, "Take the article for the sum you originally stipulated, for I had intended to give it to you for that sum." This shows us how duty-bound one is to be truthful.

The Sages likewise tell us about a certain town in which the people were careful about what they said and no one ever told lies, and where no man ever died before his time. A certain man came to this place from elsewhere and he married one of the women there, by whom he had two sons.
One day his wife was busy with private matters, when two women neighbors came and knocked at the door and asked where the man's wife was. Thinking to himself that it would not be etiquette to tell them what his wife was doing, he called out, "She is not here." Shortly thereafter their two sons died.

The people of the town came and questioned him, "What is the cause of this? After all, in this place nobody dies before his time?" So he related to them what had happened, how he was compelled to say something that was not true. The people said to him "Please leave this town, and do not bring death upon us."

Truth is one of the three pillars upon which the world stands (Avot 1:18): "The world stands upon three things: on truth, on justice, and on peace." God's seal is truth, and God furnished us with a great exhortation concerning the necessity of abiding by the truth: "Let one man speak with another in truth" (Zachariah 8:16). It is further written, "And he said, 'But they are my people, children who do not lie' " (Isaiah 63:8), and "Jerusalem will be called the 'City of Truth'" (Zechariah 8:3).

Just as truth is desirable, so is its opposite despised, as it is written, "The abomination of God is lying lips" (Proverbs 12:22), and the Sages teach, "This is the punishment of a liar - even when he speaks truth he is not attended to" (Sanhedrin 89b). One loses trust for such a person and it becomes impossible to rely upon him.

On the other hand, for a person who is careful about what he says and distances himself from lies, his word is his word. His "yes" means "yes" and his "no" means "no." It is possible to rely upon such a person.

On the face of things, this matter is quite obvious and there is really no reason to speak about it. After all, who doesn't know that it is important to speak the truth and distance oneself from lies? However, in reality, it is not as easy to practice as one would think. Therefore, it is important to readdress even such obvious matters from time to time in order to strengthen their implementation.

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Some of the translated biblical verses and talmudic sources in the above article were taken from, or based upon, Davka's Soncino Judaic Classics Library (CD-Rom). Parts of the Path of the Just were taken from, or based upon, Shraga Silverstein's translation of this work (Feldheim).

Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed
Rosh Yeshiva of the Bet El Yeshiva, was the head of the Yesha rabbis board and rabbi of Bet-El, founder and head of Arutz 7.
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