Truth And Justice
By Rabbi Daniel Travis
Avraham answered, “I realized that the one thing that is missing here
is the fear of Elokim. Therefore I could have been killed on account of my
wife.” (Bereshith 20:11)
Although the Hebrew word Elokim in general is a reference to God, in this
case it also refers to the magistrate (1). Avraham expressed his fear
that since the people who lived in Gerar had no fear of their ruling
authorities, they were so lacking in discipline that they would have
killed him in order to take his wife. (They were not altogether corrupt,
for although they would have killed a man to fulfill their desires, they
would not have gone so far as to molest a married woman.)
Many people who are basically honest are not careful regarding the
violation of “minor” government-imposed laws. Our Sages, however, tell us
that government regulations have the same status as other parts of Jewish
law, and this is accepted as the halachah (2). Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky, for
example, was very careful never to violate any law. He would never cross
the street when the light was red, even if there were no cars in sight.
Sometimes we find ourselves in situations in which it is difficult for us
to tell “the whole truth” to government officials. Even under such
circumstances, someone who has mastered the trait of integrity can muster
the inner strength to avoid justifying lying. One such incident occurred
when Rav Noigershel, one of the great living teachers of Jewish ethics,
was being driven to Jerusalem. His driver, who had spent the entire night
caring for his father in the hospital, had not slept at all. As they were
entering Jerusalem, the driver fell asleep at the wheel and the car
skidded off the road down the side of a cliff. Miraculously, neither Rav
Noigershel nor his driver was harmed.
Moments after the accident police were on the scene. Rav Noigershel
advised his driver to tell the police the true story of what had happened
and why, for, he explained, after having experienced such a miracle, he
owed it to God to tell the truth. By telling the police that he had fallen
asleep at the wheel, the driver was risking suspension of his driver’s
license and the loss of his insurance benefits, but he chose to follow Rav
Noigershel’s advice. Significantly, he suffered no major negative
consequences as a result of his having spoken the truth (3).
1. Seforno on Bereshith 20:11.
2. Nedarim 28a; Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 369:2,7,8,9; Rambam, Laws
of Theft (gezeila) 5:11-18.
3. Heard from Rav Avraham Krohn.
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org