“The seal of Hakodosh Baruch Hu is Emes”, truth (Shabbos 58a). With this statement, our Chazal (Rabbis) are strongly emphasizing the centrality and indispensability of truth in our lives. There are many negative commandments in the Torah , ”Thou shalt not” perform certain actions – but only by falsehood are we told to distance ourselves, as it says in this week’s Parsha – M’Dvar Sheker Tirchak (Shemos 23:7).
Rabbeinu Yonah (Shaarei Teshuva Third Gate, 211) speaks of the one who is most likely to accept Lashon Hara and believe negative information about others. That is the liar, who has no compunctions about listening to Lashon Hara despite the very real possibility that the negative talk he is hearing might not be accurate, might be false altogether. He lives in a world of mirage and falsehood and thereby facilitates the destruction of people’s reputations without justification in reality. On the other hand, a capacity for telling the truth brings a person to a life of virtue. One who is unwilling to tell a lie is unlikely to perpetrate any act about which he would be embarrassed were it to be known, because he will not falsify the facts to cover up his guilt. Therefore, he won’t sin in the first place.
Appreciating the centrality of honesty in the life of a Jew, we move onto the question of “how do we instill honesty in our children?” There are many approaches – I’d like to share three of them. The first is role modeling. We teach mainly by who we are and how we act, and not so much by what we say. If we tell our child in response to a ringing door bell – “tell the Tzedaka collector I’m not here,” we’re doing a lot more damage to our children’s delicate Neshamos than to the Meshulach’s pocketbook.
Secondly, Rabbi Dr. Avraham Twerski compares and contrasts a typical mother’s reaction to seeing a bug near her baby on the one hand, and hearing a lie come out of her small child’s mouth, on the other. If it’s the bug – there are cries of “feh, feh” and other signs of a visceral, gut revulsion to the creature. Upon hearing her child lie, however – perhaps a lecture, a stern look, but certainly a measured response without the emotional temperature that’s necessary to send a non-verbal message of how disgusting a lie is. We need to show our children on an emotional level how abhorrent dishonesty is and how hurt we are that our precious child would speak a non-truth.
Finally, the third approach is clearly stated by HaRav Chaim Friedlander zt’l, in his sefer Mesillos Chaim B’Chinuch (p. 24) where he quotes the Shelah (Shnei Luchos HaBris by Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz 1560-1630) as follows: “It is necessary to give a child greater consequences for telling a lie, than for any other misdeed.” He then goes on to give a very meaningful suggestion: “If a child does something bad and is denying it, tell the child that if he tells the truth about what happened he will not be punished. Give a warning about not doing it again, but don’t punish for the original misbehavior. If however, the child persists in not telling the truth, then give a greatly increased consequence for the falsehood.”
This will underscore how valuable being truthful is and allow the lesson of truth and honesty to penetrate our children’s inner core. If we succeed in raising children who are upright and honest, we will have planted the seeds for a life of meaning and fulfillment, and left a legacy of greatness for generations to come.
Best wishes for a truly meaningful Shabbos,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann