Google news reported that Clinton’s questionable integrity cost her the election. Marc A. Thiessen wrote on September 22, 2016 in The Washington Post, “The American people have been burned, time and again, by Hillary Clinton’s “honesty”… A recent NBC News poll found that just 11 percent of Americans say Clinton is honest and trustworthy. To put that in perspective, 14 percent of American voters believe in Bigfoot.”
The election’s wake-up call for honesty is important. The Torah itself considers integrity one of the foundations of our soul. (Rebeinu Yona, Shaarei Teshuvah 3:184) There is a unique prohibition against falsehood as explained by the Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah # 74): “There is not only the mitzvah, “Do not tell a lie” (Vayikra 19:11) but also “Distance yourself from falsehood” (Shemos 23:7) to indicate an abhorrence of falsehood and a love for truth, which strives to emulate the attributes of God.
The root of this mitzvah is well known: falsehood is abominable and corrupt in the eyes of all. There is nothing more abhorrent than it… And blessing is only found and will only take effect upon those who emulate Him in their actions – to be truthful just as He is a God of truth…”
Furthermore, the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos teaches that honesty is one of the three attributes that enables the continuity of existence itself: “Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said, ‘The world is sustained by three things: justice, truth, and peace.’”
With this is mind, it is difficult to understand the words of Yaakov Avinu in Parshas Toldos when he approaches his blind father Yitzchak, disguised as Eisav, to receive the berachos intended for Eisav:
He [Yaakov] came to his father [Yitzchak], and said, “Father.”
He [Yitzchak] said, “I am here. Who are you, my son?”
And Yaakov said to his father, “It is I, Eisav, your first born…”
Whereas there is a discussion among the commentators whether or not Yitzchak was aware of Yaakov’s true identity when he gave him the berachos (see Rabbi Yerachmiel Refael Shaul Miller’s Imrei Shaul), it appears on the surface as if there was deception on Yaakov Avinu’s part. This is perplexing since the Torah describes Yaakov as the paradigm of truth – “Give truth to Yaakov.” (Michah 7:20) Moreover, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 97a) illustrates, through the parable of the land of Kushta, how modifying the truth in even a seemingly justified circumstance might have negative repercussions (See Maharal, Chidushei Aggados, IBID). If so, how can Yaakov Avinu not tell the truth?
Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky writes (Emes L’Ya’akov, Bereishit 27:12) that if someone is involved in daily interactions with a dangerous fraud – someone of Eisav’s type – sometimes there may be no alternative other than using deceptive and evasive means. Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler (Michtav M’Eliyahu, Vol. I, p. 94) explains:
“What is truth and what is falsehood? When we went to school we were taught that truth is to tell facts as they occurred and falsehood is to deviate from this. This is true in simple cases, but in life many occasions arise when this simple definition no longer applies.
“Sometimes it may be wrong to “tell the truth” about another person, for example if it would reveal something negative about him, unless there was an overriding purpose and necessity. And sometimes it may be necessary to change details, when the plain truth would bring not benefit, but injury. In such cases what appears to be true is false, since it produces evil effects; and what appears to be false may help to achieve the truth.
“We had better define truth as that which is conducive to good and which conforms with the Will of the Creator, and falsehood as that which furthers the scheme of the Prince of Falsehood, the power of evil in the world.”
Whereas we can therefore understand why Yaakov Avinu would be forced to modify his words when dealing with an “Eisav,” in contrast – as the NBC poll reflects – political candidates must be careful to be truthful to ensure they earn the trust and confidence of their constituency.
Click here to download the Free Morasha Shiur on “Can You Ever Tell a Lie?”