The Punishment Fits The Crime
By Rabbi Daniel Travis
Sarah was afraid, and she denied having laughed, saying, “I did not
Our Sages taught that all punishment is meted out “measure for measure,”
in accordance with the transgression. This principle is crucial to the
ultimate rectification of each individual and the world at large, for
appropriate reproof teaches the transgressor what he did to have brought
such a punishment upon himself. In this way he will be moved to repent,
and will be less likely to repeat that sin in the future.
Examining the punishment for any given act can give us a clue as to the
severity of the act itself. Since Sarah had lied about her reaction to the
news of the future birth of her son Yitzchak, she died – years later –
when she discovered that Yitzchak had been taken to be a sacrifice(1).
If we tend to view Sarah’s punishment as overly harsh, it is because we do
not understand the importance of truth. The Hebrew word for “truth” is
emeth, a three-letter word which, the Sages have explained, can be divided
into two parts: the letter Aleph (E), and the word meth (meaning “dead”).
Someone who deviates one iota from the truth (this is represented by the
letter Aleph, whose numerical equivalent is one) is considered to be a
meth (dead person). Sarah was exceptionally righteous, and her every
action was subject to God’s close scrutiny, so in her case, death that
resulted from uttering an untruth was very plausible.
Another example of measure-for-measure punishment meted out for falsehood
concerned Yaakov and his son Yehudah. After Yosef was sold, Yehudah dipped
Yosef’s coat in goat’s blood, and brought it to their father Yaakov,
telling him, “Please identify this” (3). With these words Yehudah gave
the false impression that he did not know what had happened to Yosef.
Although he had uttered no lie, his words were far from truthful. Yehudah
was later humiliated by his daughter-in-law Tamar, when she spoke these
very same words(4). Furthermore, since he deceived his father with a
goat, Tamar deceived him with a goat (5).
1. Me’am Lo’ez, Bereshith 23:1.
2. Maharal, Nethiv HaEmeth, Ch. 1.
3. Bereshith 37:32.
4. Da’as Zekeinim, Bereshith 38:25.
5. Rashi on Bereshith 38:23.
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org