The inability of human beings to dictate the circumstances of their lives leads, on occasion, to irreconcilable clashes between even the most resolute principles. While truth, “the seal of God” (Shabbat 55a), stands at the center of the Jewish value system, the necessities of peaceful existence often challenge total adherence. The Talmud’s cognizance of this is seen in a passage dealing with this week’s Parsha (Yevamot 65b). Yosef’s brothers, fearing that now that Yaakov had passed away, Yosef would take revenge for their selling him into slavery, tell Yosef that their father had instructed him to forgive them (Bereshit 50:16-17). This was actually untrue, yet the Talmud allows it: “R. Ilai says … it is permitted to alter the truth for the sake of peace.”
This notion is then taken further. “R’ Natan says [based on another biblical proof], it is a Mitzvah to do so.” The Talmud concludes: “The house of R’ Yishmael taught, great is peace, for even the Holy One, blessed be He, changed the truth for it.” This occurred when Hashem told Avraham that Sarah was worried about her own ability to have a child, when the concern she had expressed had actually been for Avraham’s abilities (Bereshit 18: 12-13).
The Rama in his Teshuvot (#11) discusses these ideas. In his view, this passage is reflective of many instances in which we are permitted to compromise religious values for peace. The formidable prohibition of Sheker bows to harmony.
Many authorities (see Mitzvot HaShalom, pp. 570-579; Iyyim BaYam [Ketubot 2:1]; Shut D’var Yehoshua [I, Mafteichot, #19]; and Shut Yacheil Yisrael I,39) observe that there are at least two methods to explain these concepts. The Pasuk (Zechariah 8:19) identifies two pillars of God’s world: “And truth and peace are beloved.” It appears that these two values are equivalent, sharing the role of ultimate ideals. In an irreconcilable conflict, one must be sacrificed. This is consistent with the Rama: to uphold peace, truth at times must be jettisoned. The Shulchan Aruch HaRav (156:2) writes “Since peace is greater than all the Mitzvot... it was permitted to alter the truth for the sake of peace.”
However, it may alternatively be that the prohibition of Sheker is defined by the intent of the speaker. The Torah’s prohibition would thus refer to falsehood that is perpetrated for personal gain. If, on the other hand, one’s aim is peace, this falsehood may not be within the injunction. Thus, the comments of the Talmud would mean that when one alters the truth in pursuit of harmony, he does not bear the stigma of Sheker in the eyes of Halacha. In fact, the Yereim (#235) held that the only type of lie prohibited by the Pasuk is that which harms another. Rav Joseph D. Epstein (Mitzvot HaShalom, p. 579.) suggests more directly: the prohibition is rooted in its destructive impact; when the intent is harmony, it is the complete opposite of the prohibition.
The Ritva states as much, commenting on Beit Hillel’s view that one should compliment a bride’s beauty regardless of one’s real opinion (Ketubot 16b.). He notes, “Whatever is for Darchei Shalom (the ways of peace), the prohibition …. does not apply.” The alternate view is expressed by the Shlah (Amud HaShalom, p. 154): “If it is possible to create a situation where the other will be appeased without deception, then ‘keep far away from falsehood.’ ”
Thus, one could explain two of the views in the Talmud. Is the alteration of truth for peace an option, or an obligation? If the first approach is correct, it appears that this is an option rather than a mandatory act. Truth and peace are equals, as the verse indicates, and when they clash, one must defer. “It is permitted to alter the truth...,” and thus choose harmony , but it is also permissible not to, ascribing priority to truth. Alternatively, if Sheker is not applicable to dishonesty in the pursuit of peace, then such alterations are compulsory; there is no excuse for not bringing about peace. Hence, “It is a Mitzvah.”
R. Yitzchak Sternhill (Kochvei Yitzchak 1:16) offers an interpretation of Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai that also reflects these possibilities. It is surprising that Beit Shammai, who presumably agree to the priority of peace, do not also allow lying about the bride for its sake. It must be, he explains, that they, too, would sanction dishonesty if necessary; however, in this instance, the lying serves to preemptively strengthen harmony, which is not actually threatened, rather than combat discord. While that is certainly worthwhile, it is not enough to justify Sheker. Beit Hillel, however, are willing to allow dishonesty as long as it contributes to peace, even if it is not absolutely necessary.
Often the complexities of a mature religious existence preclude an easy satisfaction of all fundamental tenets simultaneously. The careful balancing of conflicting pillars of the Halachic value system remains one of the foremost challenges of the dedicated Jew. One reality, however, remains undisputed: the role of pursuing and maintaining a peaceful existence as a paramount priority of the Torah’s vision, “Its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all of its paths are peace.”
by Jeremy Jaffe
When Yaakov blesses Yosef’s children, he asks of God that “the angel that redeems me from all evil bless the lads” (48:16). Why does he ask God for the angel to bless them? Can God not bless the children himself? The Radak suggests that when God wants to do good, He does it through His angels. Therefore, Yaakov asks God to send an angel of good to bless the children. The problem with this answer, however, is that if God does all his good through the angels, we should always Daven for Hashem to send angels when we want good things to happen. Since it is not our practice to do so, we are motivated to find an alternative explanation as to why Yaakov asked for an angel.
The Seforno believes that Yaakov is requesting that if the children are not worthy themselves to be blessed by God, they should at least be blessed by an angel. Another approach is that of Rav Sa’adia Gaon and the Chizkuni, who assert that Yaakov is not actually asking for the angel to do anything; rather, he is describing God with an appositive phrase. Thus, the verse should be translated as, “God, Who sent an angel to redeem me from all evil, should bless the lads.” The question then becomes: of all things to praise God for, why specifically does Yaakov cite His having sent angels? Rashi answers this question by pointing out that Yaakov had a history with angels. For example, it was an angel who told Yaakov to go to Israel when he was still living in Lavan’s house. Similarly, Yaakov dreamed of angels on his way to Lavan’s house, and he encountered angels on the return journey at Machanayim. Since Yaakov was used to dealing with angels, it came naturally to him to speak in terms of angels.
by Ari Levine
This week’s Parsha begins by telling us “Vayechi Yaakov Bieretz Mitzrayim Shiva Esrei Shanah” (47:28). If the Torah records that Yaakov was 130 years old when he went down to Egypt and that he was 147 years old when he died, then why is it necessary to mention that he was in Mitzrayim for 17 years? By doing simple math one could have figured this out!
The Tzemach Tzedeck’s Rebbe, Rav Menachem Mendel Schneerson, (the 3rd Lubavitcher Rebbe) explained that the Torah specifically writes Yaakov was there for 17 years because these were the best years of his life. This idea can be seen in the word Tov, good, whose Gematria is 17.
However, why were these 17 years the best ones of Yaakov’s life? How could one live the best year’s of his life in a Galut such as Egypt, where people committed adultery, worshiped Avoda Zara, and stole from each other? The Alter Rebbe explains that before Yaakov went down to Egypt, his son, Yehudah, built a Yeshiva there to give people the opportunity to learn Torah. Consequently, now Yaakov’s life was vibrant and full of reward as Jews would learn Torah and pass it on to future generations. Thus, even in this Galut Yaakov was able to enjoy the rest of his life knowing that there were Jews that were committed to Hashem and would pass on what he learned from his Rabbeim.
When a Jew learns Torah, no matter where he is, he instantly becomes closer to Hashem. It is said that Hashem’s Shechinah listens in on the discussion of a Chavruta immersed in Torah. Therefore, no matter where you are, Torah can instantly connect you to Hashem and sanctify your location.
Halacha of the Week The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah 291:1) states that one should have his Mezuzot checked twice every seven years. Although an argument can be made that in modern times (when the climate in our homes is relatively constant) indoor Mezuzot are less prone to damage, experience indicates that it is nonetheless very worthwhile to check Mezuzot according to the Shulchan Aruch’s inspection schedule. Even today Mezuzot are occasionally found to develop problems over time and thus should be regularly inspected by a competent authority. This is most certainly true regarding Mezuzot that are affixed in the outdoors, such as Mezuzot that one attaches to his garage door.
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