Let’s admit it. We all lie at one time or another.
Any spouse who wants to keep peace at home knows to tread very carefully when answering truthfully to the question, “Honey, how do I look in this dress?” is going to hurt.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating the art of lying. I am just pointing out that it is in our DNA to lie.
The art of lying is one of the first lessons we learn in the “Soul Survival Guide,” aka the Torah. The Opponent (aka Snake) tricked Eve in the Garden of Eden by mixing truth with lies. Adam was told by the Creator to wait 6 hours before he and Eve would be allowed to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. And, furthermore, if they ate from the Tree of Knowledge before then, they would experience death.
Adam, when telling Eve the news, added his own words, “Don’t eat of the tree and don’t even touch it or you will die.”
Because he mixed truth with a tiny lie, the Snake used that lie as an opening to convince Eve to eat the forbidden fruit that she subsequently shared with Adam, and we have been paying for it ever since.
As King Solomon wrote in Proverbs (12:19)
"A true tongue will be established forever. But a lying tongue, just for a moment."
In other words, if a person is always lying, she or he won’t do well in any kind of relationship.
However, the wise sages have taught that unity and harmony in a marriage is more important than sharing one’s truth. In fact, one may "change the truth" for reasons of peace. (Talmud, Yevamot 65b)
Aaron the High Priest was known as the ‘lover of peace.’ He would try to make peace between quarrelling spouses and friends. He was known to tell one person that the other person apologized and wanted to reconcile. When the person heard this, he would express an interest in making up and reinstating peace in the relationship. Aaron would then go to the other person and tell her this fact. At which point, everybody would make up. (Pirkei Avot 1;12)
The sages taught that to lie in this way in order to maintain peace reveals a tremendous amount of Light. The following story brings home the importance of the art of lying:
About 200 years ago, in a small eastern European town, a kabbalist and his student went to a small inn for dinner. While they were eating the soup, the owner of the inn asked them how they liked their soup. The kabbalist lied and said it was delicious. His student gave his honest opinion, “The soup tastes ok. It would taste much better if it had salt in it.”
The manager thanked him for his critique. His teacher was furious with his student. The student didn’t understand why his teacher was so angry. “He asked me for my honest opinion, so I told him the truth. What is the problem?”
The kabbalist explained that the cook was a widow who had children to support. She was having a rough day and forgot to add salt to the soup. The manager went into the kitchen and fired the cook for her incompetence. The teacher explained to the student that by carelessly speaking his ‘truth’, he caused this woman to go into poverty.
Here are a few practical examples of when not telling the whole truth may be a better idea:
- In order to practice humility or modesty.
- In order to protect someone else from harm or inconvenience.
- To protect someone from embarrassment.
Lastly, when it is time to tell the truth, if it is going to hurt, find the most merciful way to do it for the benefit of the other person.