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 (1).
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 (2). 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 truth.
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
(3). 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 (4). 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 truth (5).
1. Ohel Yaakov. A halachic authority should always be consulted.
2. Sefer Chasidim 1061.
3. Laws of Repentance 4:4.
4. MiDevar Sheker Tirchak, p. 100.
5. Kaf HaChayim 565:36, and Shulchan Gavohah, Orach Chaim 565.