Distanced From Falsehood
Please forgive me. I am not a Torah scholar and I don't know
Hebrew and I was just wondering if maybe G-d didn't deviate from
relaying the facts to Avraham. I also don't know Talmud and so
maybe my understanding of what a "fact" is, is incomplete.
Is it possible that when referring to a married couple, that one
party is equal to the other and so substituting Sarah's name
for Avraham's is still keeping in line with the facts? ... and when you
speak about someone else, someone who was also made in Hashem's
image, that you speak of yourself -- as Sarah did when she spoke of
I was just wondering ...
Your question is excellent and I will try to answer it with the following
In any case, she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the
daughter of my mother, and she became my wife.
When Avraham first encountered Avimelech (in Bereshith 20:2), danger to his
life prevented Avraham from revealing that Sarah was his wife. Now, when
confronted by Avimelech, Avraham explains that he had deviated from the
truth as little as possible, for technically, Sarah was his sister.1
Nevertheless, his words beg elucidation. When he had said that Sarah was his
sister he certainly created the impression that she was not his wife.
The fact that she was technically his sister might seem irrelevant if not
for the halachah that one should try to make sure that one's words are as
close to the technical truth as possible. If it is possible to make peace
without deviating from the facts, one must do so even when it requires
tremendous effort.2 This is understandable: if one is able to avoid
falsehood completely, certainly one should follow that path. However, if one
is in a situation in which deviating from the facts is the only option, it
is best to make a statement which is misleading but technically true. In
certain situations it is better to forego technical truth and opt for a
higher truth, such as protecting your life or peace between husband and
When the Torah prohibits lying, it employs the phraseology, "Distance
yourself from sheker."3 Distancing oneself implies that even when one is
permitted to deviate from the facts one must stay as far away from sheker as
possible. In this vein, Targum Onkelos translates this verse as, "From a
word of sheker be distant." This implies that even if one cannot make a
statement which is one hundred percent true, one must at least make sure
that all of the words are technically true. In other words, there should be
some way in which it is possible to demonstrate that your words are
consistent with what really happened. Distance from falsehood must be a high
Many authorities opine that it is never permitted to say something which is
a total deviation, and that there must be some true connotation associated
with what you say.4 Yaakov exemplifies this course of action. Although
prophetic instruction forced him to say that he was Esav, he made sure there
was a truthful connotation to his words.5 Another way to distance oneself
from falsehood is by not deviating from factual integrity on a regular
basis, for this will accustom a person to lying.6 We must remember that even
when one is permitted to deviate from factual integrity, one must still
distance themselves from falsehood and stay as close to the truth as
An immigrant and a resident I am with you.
If Avraham merely meant to describe his own status, he should have simply
said, "I am an immigrant and a resident." The righteousness weigh every word
carefully, and the nuances of even the slightest departure from normal
speech patterns must be explained. This is especially true of Avraham, who
was one of the most powerful orators of his generation, as evinced by the
vast number of people he influenced. If so, why did Avraham phrase his
statement in such an awkward fashion?
In truth, the land actually belonged to Avraham, for God had promised it to
him. Therefore it was Avraham who had the rights of residence there, not the
Hittites, to whom he was speaking. Nevertheless he chose not to intimidate
them, and he was permitted to tell them that they were the rightful
residents, for the sake of peace. Avraham expressed himself to the people in
an ambiguous way. He said, "An immigrant and a resident I am with you,"
which could have been interpreted either that they were the residents and he
the immigrant, or that they were the immigrants and he the resident. Even in
a situation in which one is allowed to deviate from the truth, one should
try to stay as close to the truth as possible.7
Staying as close to the truth as one can is always the best policy. Even if
one is allowed to deviate from factual integrity, one should consider first
whether there is any way to deal with the situation completely truthfully.
One who is careful always to be honest and to remain distant from falsehood
will find that he will not be forced to lie.8 In difficult situations, when
stating the factual truth is impossible, he will be able to find a way to
keep quiet, or will find something to say that could be interpreted as the
Once when Rav Elyah Lopian was visiting a poor family, the host offered him
something to eat. Rav Elyah would not accept the offer, for the Rambam
writes that if someone is lacking the means to provide for himself and those
who depend on him, it is considered theft to eat from his table.9 Rav Elyah
faced a dilemma, since if he refused outright, his host would be insulted,
so he told his host that his doctor forbid him to eat that type of food.
Later, his students asked him whether it was true that his doctor had
forbidden him to eat such food. Rav Elyah replied that the Rambam, who was
an excellent doctor, wrote that it is forbidden to take food from someone
who does not have enough for himself, so indeed he had spoken the truth.10
In this situation, although Rav Elyah was allowed to deviate from the facts
in order to avoid transgressing the halachah, since he was a man of truth,
he found something to say which was not inconsistent with the factual
I guess I just cannot imagine Hashem and shekar (because it separates) in
the same sentence. I guess we humans are already separate and are
capable -- though hopefully with great strain -- of straying off the line.
You are right Hashem is Total Truth and has no connection whatsoever to even
the minutest iota of falsehood. Yet at times Hashem does things that are
completely inconsistent with His "real" nature purely for the sake of
teaching us how to act. For example when He asked for council in Bereshis
1,26. In truth all of our charecter traits are supposed to be based on how
Hashem acts, and therefore we always need Him to set the standard.
All the best,
Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis
2 Chofetz Chaim Rechiluth 1:8; Rav Chaim Kanievsky, Masechet Kutim Ch. 30.
3 Shemoth 23:7.
4 Chatham Sofer, Responsa 6:59; Aruch le'Ner, Yevamoth 65b; Sefer Chasidim
5 Bereshith 27:19-24.
6 Yam Shel Shlomo, Yevamoth 6:46, Responsa Chofetz Chaim 19 (Rav Chaim
Palagi) and Meam Loez Shemoth 23:7. A halachic authority should be
7 Ohel Yaakov. A halachic authority should always be consulted.
8 Sefer Chasidim 1061.
9 Laws of Repentance 4:4.
10 MiDevar Sheker Tirchak, p. 100.
11 Kaf HaChayim 565:36, and Shulchan Gavohah, Orach Chaim 565.
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