The Danger of Dishonesty by Ben Katz


One of the Mitzvot found in Parshat Behar is the prohibition of “Ona’at Devarim,” the commandment to avoid any kind of hurtful language.  This can run from everyday callousness to deceit that ends up costing money.  For example, recommending a product one knows is faulty would fall under this prohibition.  Even speech as harmless as asking about the price of clothing without the intent of buying could be Ona’at Devarim, as the storeowner might think he is losing a sale.

If something as seemingly insignificant as asking the price of a shirt could be considered a sin, the Torah must put extreme emphasis on honesty, which in fact it does.  Theft is considered one of the worst sins in the Torah.  It is so deleterious that it is what sealed the fate of the generation of the flood and restoring stolen property is what saved the people of Nienveh from destruction.

With this foundation, we can understand why Saro Shel Eisav wanted specifically to attack Yaakov.  He is the forefather who represents honesty, while Avraham is Chesed and Yitzchak is Avodah.  Saro Shel Eisav is apparently able to tolerate Chesed and Avodat Hashem as long as there is no honesty in the world.  This is because a lack of Chesed and Avodah are results of poor morality, but dishonesty can actually cause immorality through perversion of the Mitzvot.

The Torah is Divine truth and is therefore inextricably linked to and based on the principles of truth.  Separating truth from Torah will completely disintegrate its teachings.  When Avodat Hashem is perverted as such, it turns into Avodat Kochavim UMazalot.  When Chesed is perverted, it can turn into a tongue-in-cheek, superficial kind of kindness, the kind of generosity that seduces another into a false sense of security.  Satan can be satisfied with dishonesty in the world because when there is dishonesty, all he needs do is wait patiently, letting this toxic attribute do his sinful work for him. 

We can learn an important lesson from this passage of Ona’at Devarim.  We must distance ourselves from dishonesty and recognize it as the horrible plague it is.  In a world where a little bit of lying or “shmearing” is considered not only alright, but laudable, we need to fortify our own senses of what is right and wrong with a newfound appreciation of truth.  We are the descendants of Yaakov, who embodies truth and the children of the One Who signifies absolute truth.  Honesty must mark us as people, or we are doomed to lives dangerously close to transgression.

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