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Mishlei 19-28 (Disingenuousness)

Mishlei 19-28

Disingenuousness

Key Concepts

A disingenuous speaker is one who seems believable and honest although he is intentionally deceiving his listeners. He uses tricks of the language to introduce selected ambiguities into his conversation. In this way he reveals only that which supports his narrative.

Using such techniques he may give the false impression that innocent behavior is criminal or create the illusion that sinful behavior is fully justified.

Accordingly, if we have reason to be skeptical of the integrity of the speaker we need to listen to his words skeptically to spot the subterfuge.  Otherwise an unscrupulous talebearer may cause us to believe misleading gossip about an innocent person or may leave us ignorant about people or situations that can cause us harm.

Exploring Mishlei

עֵד בְּלִיַּעַל יָלִיץ מִשְׁפָּט וּפִי רְשָׁעִים יְבַלַּע אָוֶן

(28) An unethical witness may distort judgment,
and the mouth of the wicked may swallow iniquity. 

This proverb calls attention to two forms of verbal communication that are intentionally misleading. In the first part of the proverb an unethical witness (עֵד בְּלִיַּעַל) expresses himself with artful figures of speech (יָלִיץ) that create ambiguity in the mind of the listener so that he errs in his judgment (מִשְׁפָּט).

In the second part of the proverb, wicked speakers (רְשָׁעִים) leave out critical facts of the story, leading the listeners to draw mistaken conclusions about sinful behavior (אָוֶן) that did not actually occur. In effect, the speaker swallows the sin because he does not describe it in so many words.

Learning Mishlei

An unethical witness — עֵד בְּלִיַּעַל
may distort
the judgment — יָלִיץ מִשְׁפָּט
of the listener using artful figures of speech.

The mouth of the wicked — וּפִי רְשָׁעִים
may swallow iniquity —
יְבַלַּע אָוֶן
by leaving out critical words in the stories they are telling.  

Additional Insights

(1) An unethical busybody may use rhetorical techniques to mislead the listener into thinking that certain Torah laws need not be taken literally. (הגר”א)

(2) The word יָלִיץ may also be understood to mean mockery. By making fun of serious concepts, such as justice, the wicked person diminishes their value in the mind of the listener. (רשר”ה)

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