Judaism and Lying

What does Judaism think about lying?

In current events, there has been rioting on the Temple Mount. The Arabs have accused the Jews of planning to destroy the Moslem shrines there by digging underground to make the Mount collapse. In medieval times, Jews were accused of poisoning the wells and causing the Black death. And in modern times, Jews are accused of secretly manipulating the world economies for their own benefit (the famous "Protocols of the Elders of Zion").

That these are all lies is obvious. What is fascinating, is that these lies proved so effective in instigating unspeakable violence. What is even more fascinating, is that the people who became violent felt a need to lie in order to do so.

It is similar to what we see in Iran. On the one hand, the president of Iran threatens the imminent demise of Israel. He dreams of a new Holocaust. On the other, he denies the old Holocaust ever happened. Why this exercise in mental gymnastics? If you hate the Jews, why not just say so? If you want to attack, why do you need to lie in order to do so?

The reason is because, at the end of the day, they are also human beings. No matter how evil, there is something in the very material of the human being that requires him to lie in order to sin. What is it? It is the image of God.

"In God's image (He) created him (man)." Our very material is in God's image. Practically, what does that mean?

Well, the Talmud states that God's signature Is "Truth." Truth is at the very essence of creation. Truth is what allows the world to continue to exist. When the Torah prohibits lying, it does not simply say, "Thou shalt not lie." It says, "Keep far away from a false thing."

It's not enough to not lie, one must be on guard to stay far away from it. It is the very antithesis of the godly life that we are to live.

There is a legend in the Talmud about some very holy sages who took a spiritual journey into the heavenly realms. They were warned to not say "Water, water" when they see the "pure marble". I don't think we know what that mystical marble is, but why is it so terrible if they say "Water, water?"

The answer is, the marble actually is so pure that it looks like water. The sages who saw it would think it is water. Yet it is not, and to call it water is an untruth. The Talmud quotes a verse, "One who speaks falsely cannot stand before Me." Thus, even though they felt it was really water, and felt they were speaking the truth, in fact it was an untruth. Especially when one rises to the heights of heaven, one must be truthful. The standard is much higher.

Thus, man has an intrinsic sense of truth. If we would listen to it all the time, we would never sin. And yet, we have an evil inclination. The evil inclination knows that we cannot violate our basic nature of truth. Therefore, what it does is convince us that truth demands our evil behavior. And how does it atdo that?

With lies. Lies are the way we make falsehood seem to be true, and thus get our nature to allow us to behave sinfully.

Let this be a lesson to all of us. The moment we catch ourselves justifying something, we should think twice and ask ourselves what the honest truth is. In this way we can use our divine nature to guide us to a life of goodness, holiness, and truthful accomplishment.