Torah.org Home Subscribe Services Support Us
 
Print Version

Email this article to a friend

Exaggerations

By Rabbi Daniel Travis

The Almighty said to Avraham, “I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth.” (Bereshith 13:16)

“Look at the sky and count the stars; see if you can count them. That is how numerous your descendants will be.” (Bereshith 15:5)

These references to dust and stars are clearly exaggerations.(1) It is undeniable that a tendency to exaggerate is a bad trait which can lead one to lie on a regular basis,(2) yet in the instances cited above God Himself exaggerated! How are we to understand this?

Equally perplexing is that it is considered accepted practice for even the greatest scholars to exaggerate when they speak, without being particular about precise details.(3) How can we reconcile this with the numerous warnings of our Sages that we must scrutinize our every word?

The answer is that at times exaggeration can serve a constructive purpose by helping to express or highlight a point.(4) Thus, when God promised Avraham that the Jewish Nation would be like dust and stars, He was not referring to a literal head count of the Jews. He was rather expressing in metaphoric terms how glorious a nation the Jews would become.

Similarly, if someone says, “There were a million people at that wedding!” it is quite clear that he is not referring to a specific enumeration; he means to convey only that there was an unusually large crowd at the wedding. For this reason, the prohibition of deception would not apply in this instance. By the same token, it is not a halachic problem to write in a wedding invitation a time for the chuppah which is earlier than you plan to start. Since it is widely accepted that a Jewish wedding can start late, it may actually be fooling the guests to begin the chuppah at the time listed on the invitation! In such a case, listing an exact time for the chuppah might involve a question of deception.(5)

However, in accordance with the words of our Sages that at times there is an element of sheker involved in exaggeration one must weigh every situation very carefully, for what he considers a harmless exaggeration may actually be a lie.(6)


1. Radak on Bereshith 13:16 and 15:5.

2. Sha’arei Teshuvah 3:181.

3. Chulin 90b.

4. Niv Sefathayim p. 120.

5. This is the opinion of Rav Yitzchak Berkowitz.

6. Sha’arei Teshuvah cited previously.


Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org


 

ARTICLES ON TERUMAH:

View Complete List

There are No Shortcuts
Rabbi Berel Wein - 5760

Symbols
Shlomo Katz - 5772

Where the Torah Does Dwell
Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann - 5771

> Tabernacle Building: Sharing Our Wealth
Rabbi Berel Wein - 5771

It Will be Built Again
Rabbi Label Lam - 5763

G’d’s Context in This Existence
Rabbi Yosef Kalatzky - 5772

Looking for a Chavrusah?

Invest in Yourself
Rabbi Yaakov Menken - 5758

A Place To Grow
Rabbi Yochanan Zweig - 5772

Exchange Sacrifices for Torah Learning
Shlomo Katz - 5759

Frumster - Orthodox Jewish Dating

According to his Ability
Rabbi Yaakov Menken - 5762

Seeing is Believing
Rabbi Pinchas Avruch - 5763

Filler Diamonds
Rabbi Yisroel Ciner - 5761

ArtScroll

Part God, Part Us
Rabbi Pinchas Winston - 5769

An Offering We Can't Refuse
Rabbi Pinchas Winston - 5759

Torah Comes Down From Between Two Child-like Figures
Rav Frand - 5768

The True T'rumah
Rabbi Pinchas Winston - 5762



Project Genesis

Torah.org Home


Torah Portion

Jewish Law

Ethics

Texts

Learn the Basics

Seasons

Features

TORAHAUDIO

Ask The Rabbi

Knowledge Base




Help

About Us

Contact Us



Free Book on Geulah!




Torah.org Home
Torah.org HomeCapalon.com Copyright Information