Monday, April 4, 2011

For the Sake of Peace

from the writings of the Ben Ish Chai

"Tzedek, Tzedek shall you pursue, that you may live and inherit the earth." [Deut 16:20]

"Pursuit" in Scripture is usually in order to destroy, as in "Five of you shall pursue a hundred" [Lev. 26:8].  Why, then, are we told to pursue tzedek - truth - as if it were an evil that we wish to eradicate?

There are times when we must keep away from the truth.

G-d asked Abraham: "Why did Sarah laugh, saying "Will I really give birth, when I have become old?" [Genesis 18:13]. Actually, Sarah had said that Abraham was old [Gen 18:12].  G-d changed the report for the sake of harmony between the two.

Why did G-d mention age at all?

To teach us to use falsehood when necessary for peace.  Being overly "righteous" about it is forbidden.

There are times when truth destroys and falsehood builds.

This is demonstrated by the very word שׁקר - "falsehood". Two of its letters stand on a single base, making them unstable.  Why, though, is the first letter - - sometimes formed with a stable base?  To show that we should not always discard falsehood. On occasion it is necessary.

Returning to our verse: "Tzedek, tzedek shall you pursue, so that you may live and inherit the earth".  The first tzedek means "charity" or "kindness".  The second means "truth". (Tzedek bears both meanings in Biblical Hebrew).  Our verse hints that truth is to bring charity and kindness in its wake.  Sometimes, charity and kindness require you to "pursue" and banish truth.  When?  "So that you may live" - when life is at stake.

If a critically ill person asks you how he looks, don't reply: "You look as if your condition is deteriorating."  That might hasten his death.  Lie and say: "You look as if you are on your way to recovery."  His joy at hearing this may help him recover.

You may also have to banish truth to bring peace.

Let's say Reuven sent a messenger to pick something up from Shimon, whose response was to curse Reuven.  Afterward, Reuven asks his messenger "What did Shimon say?"  To prevent a feud, Shimon must refrain from telling him the truth.

Pursue truth "and inherit the earth" - banish truth to bring peace, which preserves the earth.

Source: Od Yosef Hai, Derushim Shoftim - Ben Ish Chai

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