Its a Lie, A Murderous Lie

Parshas Mishpotim

The Torah directs “Distance yourself from falsehood, and a pure and innocent person do not kill” charting out for us the correct path with two moral truths. Keep far from untruthfulness and do not murder.

Question One
The Torah appears to take a stronger stance against falsehood than forbidden relationships. With reference to adulterous and incestuous interactions, the Torah merely adjures us “do not come near” implying some proximity is expected but don’t get close. When warning us against deception, we are told to actively distance ourselves. Can it be that falsehood is worse than immorality?

Question Two
How do we explain the juxtaposition between the beginning and end of the verse? What possible connection can there be between those who do not distance themselves from falsehood and those who commit murder?

Answer
Everything a person does or observes, leaves an impression upon him. One who speaks or acts falsely, will live in that environment, thus becoming distanced from truth. If for the purpose of a charade, one assumes the identity of a thief, ultimately, larceny will be less despicable in his eyes. Even one who only observes dissimulation, knowing that it is false (e.g. watching a play), will be less able to differentiate truth from falsehood.

It is for this reason the Torah warns it is not merely enough to “not come close” we have to keep far away, the more distance between us and falsehood the better. We can now understand the connection between falsehood and murder. A person who lives in a world where much is a facade will end up with having clouded judgment. More so, one who simulates murder, observes violent scenes or entertains himself with pastimes containing bloodthirsty actions. Such a lifestyle may result in real death of innocents.

Lesson 

Keeping far from falsehood includes being mindful of veneers and impersonations.

Story

Rabbi Shmuel Kolin (1720 -1806) is famous for having authored the indispensable work Machatzis Hashekel. Besides his duties as Rabbi he presided over a Yeshiva in Boskovice, Moravia. Once a dead man was found in Boskovice. The victim had obviously been stabbed to death, for laying next to the corpse was a bloody knife. The owner of the knife was none other than the Rabbi himself. There had been a robbery in the Rabbi’s house and it seemed the murderer had attempted to frame the Machatzis Hashekel as the killer.

The townspeople suggested that when in court, the Rabbi should deny ownership of the knife, as admission would surely be incriminating. He declined to follow their advice and freely told the truth. The knife was definitely his, but he was not the murderer nor does he know who was the perpetrator. The judge was so taken by his insistence on telling the truth, that he immediately acquitted the Rabbi. By keeping far from falsehood the Machatzis Hashekel disassociated himself from being suspected of murder.

Weekly Halacah

On Shabbos the custom is not to be concerned with covering knives during Bircas Hamazon.