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Key Concepts of Mishlei 13-05 (Truth and Falsehood)
Truth is a theoretical ideal that most people admire. However, in practice people are constantly tempted to utter falsehoods without even being aware of it. They lie through exaggeration and through making unjustified assumptions when they don’t have sufficient infomation. People make statements which they pretend “they didn’t really mean.” People lie to others to make an argument and they lie to themselves when they subsconsciously suppress knowledge that conflicts with what they want to do or believe.
In light of this unfortunate characteristic of human nature, Mishlei uses a proverb to teach the value of raising one’s sensitivity to falsehood. The tzaddik (righteous person) despises falsehood and therefore has developed an attitude of recognizing and avoiding the patterns of falsehood in speech. In contrast the rasha (wicked person) tends to focus on whatever he thinks will help his situation. He does not want to be bothered by fine distinctions between truth and falsehood.
A tzaddik is careful never to use falsehood to gain personal advantage. (However, he may be motivated by kindness to hide a painful truth through silence or vague language.)
To avoid making false assumptions when there is insufficient information, the tzaddik will make a concerted effort to investigate the truth of what he wants to say. If he finds that to be impractical he will couch his words in a form which recognizes the ambiguity in the facts at hand.
(ה) דְּבַר־שֶׁקֶר יִשְׂנָא צַדִּיק וְרָשָׁע יַבְאִישׁ וְיַחְפִּיר:
(5) A tzaddik despises falsehood but a rasha dirties and insults [others through the use of falsehoods].
This proverb compares the attitude of the tzaddik and the rasha toward the use of falsehoods. Because the tzaddik hates falsehoods he will be sensitive to anything that is untrue. Therefore, he will reject the temptation of using falsehoods to gain advantage over another person. In contrast the rasha does not see any great difference between truth and falsehood. Therefore he is happy to employ falsehoods to gain advantage, especially because falsehoods make a stronger case.
(ה) דְּבַר שֶׁקֶר יִשְׂנָא צַדִּיק
וְרָשָׁע יַבְאִישׁ וְיַחְפִּיר:
A tzaddik despises falsehood — דְּבַר־שֶׁקֶר יִשְׂנָא צַדִּיק and is careful not to employ it to gain advantage over another, but a rasha is ready to use a falsehood for any purpose. For example, he dirties the good name of his adversary — וְרָשָׁע יַבְאִישׁ and insults — וְרָשָׁע יַבְאִישׁ וְיַחְפִּיר — him to his face with false accusations.
A series of insights illuminating this proverb are presented below. The numbers identifying the insights refer to the listing of sources at the end of the segment.
Wisdom in Words
(1) The proverb does not use the word אֱמֶת (truth) because there can be only one truth, but there are many varieties of שֶׁקֶר (falsehood), all of which must be avoided. The tzaddik will allow his lips to utter only truth.
(2) The word יַבְאִישׁ refers to the use of falsehoods to sully another person’s reputation. It is based on a root meaning a bad odor. (People will avoid a person exuding a bad smell.)
(3) The word יַחְפִּיר refers to shaming and humiliating by direct insults. It is the next step after dirtying a person’s reputation.
(4) Because the tzaddik is so sensitive to anything false he is quick to detect and reject lies that may be told to him.
(5) The basic attitude of the tzaddik is founded upon a love of truth. He knows that anyone who yields to falsehood hewill not be acting righteously whether it be in making judgements, giving testimony, or being an agent for transmitting gossip and slander.
(6) Even when a tzaddik has a valid reason to dispute with another, he is careful to avoid using falsehoods to make his point. He defnitely would not use the methods employed by the rasha.
(7) Effective admonition and rebuke depends upon adherence to truth. If a person is able to describe a situation accurately he is able to show how it can be corrected.
(8) Not only does the tzaddik reject falsehood, he rejects anything said by a person who is motivated to prove a false point of view. Such a person distorts the truth to make his argument.
(9) Lying is a tool used to commit a great variety of serious offenses to morality including threats, instigation, hypocricisy, flattery, corruption, deception, and fraud. Besides all that, the lie becomes a crime in itself, undermining moral and social welfare.
The primary sources used for the additional insights illuminating this segment are listed below.
(1) – אבן יחייא
(2) – מצודות
(3) – הגר”א
(4) – מצודות
(5) – אבן עזרא, מלבי”ם
(6) – רבינו יונה
(7) – המאירי
(8) – המאירי
(9) – רשר”ה