How To Tell a Lie
by Rabbi Michoel Gourarie
The Torah tells us: "Stay away from falsehood". Our sages teach that lying is evil and damages our relationship with G-d. The simple definition of lying is telling a falsehood. But there's more to lying than that. Lies come in several different forms.
If you take your child to the zoo and lie about his/her age to pay a cheaper fare that is not just lying - it is outright theft. Telling a lie that affects someone's reputation, finance or feelings is a violation of many other transgressions such as gossip, causing pain or embarrassing other human beings.
But then there are lies that are no more than that - just lies. Because the Torah's warning to stay away from falsehood includes telling untruths that are completely harmless. Examples of this type of lie are:
- Exaggerations that make a story sound more interesting.
- Changing the facts to make yourself look better even if it has no negative affect on others
- Creating a false impression, like inviting someone to your home to appear generous, when you know that they can't come. This is called "geneivat daat" - (stealing the mind).
If the definition of lying includes harmless untruths, why is it so evil?
Here are some suggestions:
a) Central to human experience is healthy relationships. A critical ingredient of any successful relationship is trust. Trust brings people closer together and creates the opportunity for real bonding. Lying ruins that trust. If you know that someone you love is not committed to the truth it is difficult to trust them, or confide in them.
b) Harmless lies create a bad habit and will inevitably lead to more damaging dishonesty.
c) Lying breeds arrogance. When we lie to create a good impression, or to make ourselves look better it is a self-serving experience. Arrogant people are trapped in their egocentricity and can never grow and develop. According to the teachings of our sages, G-d is ready to live together with anyone except for the arrogant.
d) The Talmud says that the "seal of G-d is truth". It is the Divine brand that expresses His absoluteness and eternity. If a human being wishes to pursue a Divine connection, dishonesty at any level will stand in the way.
In the words of one of our great sages: "Truth is the foundation of the soul."