Thursday, August 30, 2007

Messilas Yesharim (Thurs., Aug. 30th)



In regard to deceiving someone by giving him bad advice, we learn that "When the Torah says, 'Do not place a stumbling block before a blind' (Leviticus 19:14) it refers to placing a figurative 'stumbling-block' before someone 'blind' to anything. Should someone ask you if a particular woman would be permitted to marry a Kohen, do not tell him that she would be when she would not. And should someone come to you for advice, do not give him advice that is not right for him.... Do not advise someone to sell his property so that he might, for example, buy a donkey, and then go behind his back and buy the property yourself. And should you reason that, after all, you are still giving him good advice-- in your heart you know the truth. As the verse concludes, 'And you must fear your L-rd'" (Torat Kohanim). The point is, whether you are going to benefit by the outcome or not, it is your duty to pass on the clear and unadulterated truth to whoever might come to you for advice. But just see how deeply the Torah penetrates into the recesses of a deceitful person's mind. We are not concerned here with the words of an idiot, whose advice is clearly and obviously bad, but rather with the words of a schemer. By all appearances the advice is only in the interests of the person to whom it is directed, but in fact it is to his disadvantage and to the advantage of the schemer. Therefore it says, "and should you reason that, after all, you are still giving him good advice-- in your heart you know the truth..."

How many people stumble in this matter every day because they are drawn to and follow the strong urge for profit. The Torah enunciated the severe punishment for this trait when it said, "Cursed is he who misdirects the blind upon the path" (Deuteronomy 27:18). The honest man's duty when someone comes to him for advice is to offer the advice that he would give himself, and for no other reason than for the good of the person asking for it, not for any ulterior motive, no matter how likely or unlikely it may be. If by giving out such advice you might harm yourself, you should point that out. If pointing it out will be useless, simply do not give the advice. But in any case, do not give advice that will be to the detriment of its receiver. But if his intentions are for bad, it is certainly a mitzvah to deceive him. As it is said, "With the perverted, you act perversely" (Psalms 18:27). The incident of Chushai the Arkite (cf. Samuel II, 15:32 ff) is the paradigm of such a thing.

The seriousness of tale-bearing and slander, as well as the great variety of situations in which it can be found is so well known that our sages noted that, as we already mentioned, "Most people commit sins of theft, some commit acts of promiscuity, but all succumb to some small measure of slander" (Baba Batra 165a). They ask, "What are examples of small measures of slander?" and answer "a person's suggesting, for example, that a fireplace can only be found in so-and-so's house" (Arachin 15a), or "pointing out someone's good traits before his enemies", and so forth. (Arachin 16a). Even though these appear to be light matters, far removed from tale-bearing, they do bear traces of it. The point is that the yetzer hara follows many paths, and anything that might be said whether to that person's face or not that may result in damage or embarrassment to him, is within the parameters of that trait that is detestable and an abomination to G-d-- slander. It is said, "Whoever spreads slander is likened to one who denies G-d" (Arachin 15b) and "I will cut down whoever slanders his neighbor in secret" (Psalms 101:5).

The traits of hate and revenge are also very difficult to escape from, given man's scheming heart. We are very sensitive to insult, suffering very much because of it; and revenge, the best solution for it, is as sweet as honey. You would have to be extraordinarily courageous and strong to have it within you to abandon what is innate to you, bypass this inclination and not hate someone who has aroused hate in you, and to not arise against him in revenge, or bear a grudge against him, but instead to forget it all, and wipe it away from your heart as if it never happened. Such an act would be easy for the ministering angels, who do not suffer from such attributes. But for "those who dwell in houses of clay, and are founded in dust" (Job 4:19) it is not. Yet, according to the decrees of the King, that is exactly what we must do. The Torah is explicit and clear about that, requiring no interpretation: "Do not hate your brother in your heart" (Leviticus 19:17–18) and, "Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people" (Leviticus 19:18). The elements of revenge and bearing a grudge are well known. Revenge involves refraining from doing good for whoever would not do good to you, or who has already done you harm. Bearing a grudge involves reminding a person of the harm he has done to you when you were about to do him a favor. The yetzer hara waxes, and infuriates the heart and wants to leave behind the memory or some trace of the incident that caused you pain. (And if it cannot retain a great deal of the memory, it will settle for a small amount). It might say to you: "If you would like to give him what he wasn't willing to give you when you needed it, at least don't give it to him cordially"; or, "If you won't go so far as to do harm to him, at least don't do him any great favor or help him in any great way"; or, "if you do care to help him out a lot, at least don't do it to his face"; or, "you shouldn't befriend him again-- it's enough that you have forgiven him and no longer hate him"; or, "if you want be his friend again, at least don't be as close to him as you had been before." Such is the way of the yetzer hara in its resolve to fool you in these things. The Torah has established a general all-encompassing principle: "And you will love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18) -- that is to say, "as yourself", without any differentiation; "as yourself", without any distinctions, contrivances or tricks-- literally, "as yourself".

In regard to oaths said in vain, even though everybody except perhaps the ignorant is careful not to mention the name of G-d in vain, and especially not to vow in vain, there are some particulars of vain oaths which it is best to remain innocent of and which you have to watch out for, though they may not be the most serious. Our sages said, "Rabbi Elazar said that 'yes' and 'no' are oaths. But Rava said that is only so if you have said 'yes, yes', or 'no, no'" (Shavuot 31a). They also said, "It is written, 'An honest measure (hinn) ...' (Leviticus 19:36), that is to say that your 'no' should be honest as well as your 'yes' (henn) (Baba Metzia 49a).

Lying is another malady that is widespread. But there are various degrees of it. There are people for whom lying is actually a profession. They go about concocting utter lies, either for laughs, or to be considered wise or knowledgeable. It is said about them, "Lying lips are an abomination to G-d" (Proverbs 12:22) and, "Your lips have spoken lies; your tongue mutters wickedness" (Isaiah 59:3). Our sages ordained that there are four categories of people who will not be received by the Divine Presence, and one of them is the liars (Sotah 42a).


© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman