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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Vayigash II

Do Not Lie

And they told him saying Yoseph is still alive; and that he is governor over all the land of Egypt. And his heart became numb, for he believed them not.

Rabbi Ben-Zion Avraham Shapiro, the son of Rabbi Tzvi Michel, of Jerusalem, had the custom of going to the mikvah every night at midnight, and afterwards reciting Tikun Chatzos, the midnight prayer which mourns the destruction of the Beis Ha-mikdash.

One Motzei Shabbos before midnight, when he was on his way to his midnight prayers, he met a group of young married men returning from a Melave Malkah (the meal one should eat after Shabbos to escort the Shabbos queen). They decided to make fun of Rabbi Ben-Zion, and when he came near them, they circled around him and danced and sang. Because of his extreme modesty, he was not insulted, and simply joined in with their dancing.

After one of the young men who had initiated the prank returned home, he began to feel very ashamed of what he had done. "What did I do? I belittled one of the most pious people in Jerusalem on his way to holy service."

He decided to go the next morning and ask forgiveness from the rabbi. When he arrived and expressed his apologies, the rabbi was truly surprised, and said to him simply, "Why are you coming to ask forgiveness? You caused me a great deal of pleasure, since I saw that because of me all of you were joyous!

The young man did the right thing by being courageous enough to tell the rabbi the truth about what he had done. We must also show that sort of courage within our marriages, instead of covering up our actions with lies.

"And they [Ya'akov's sons] told him [Ya'akov] saying, 'Yoseph is still alive."' Rabbi Chiya learned, "This is the punishment of the liar, that even when he tells the truth, he is not believed."

"And they related to him [Ya'akov] all the words that Yoseph had spoken to them." And the wagons that Pharaoh sent, where were they? The answer is that those wagons had idols engraved on them, and Yehudah got up and burned them. That tribe was accustomed to burning idols.

Yoseph said to them, "If he [Ya'akov] will believe you, that is very well. But if not, you will say to him that at the time when I left him, I was studying with him the chapter of "Eglah Arufah" [the calf with the broken neck, referring to the section in Devarim, 21:1-9, that details what to do when a murder victim is found on the road]. That is why it is written, "And he saw the wagons that Yoseph sent."2

(YALKUT 152)

Why are the sons of Ya'akov called liars? How could Yehudah have burnt something sent by Pharaoh? What is significant about the fact that when Yoseph was forced to leave his father he, Yoseph, was learning about Eglah Arufah?

Yoseph's brothers are called liars, even though they had achieved a tremendously high spiritual level, because they lacked the courage to tell their father the true fate of Yoseph. Since they felt that they had the right to judge Yoseph (see Yalkut Vayeshev 142), they should have also stood behind their judgment and informed Ya'akov of the sentence that they had imposed on their brother. But instead of doing that, they had come with a lie to their father and had dipped Yoseph's clothes in blood so that Ya'akov would mistakenly conclude that Yoseph had been devoured by a wild animal. 3

On the other hand, the brothers may have felt that there was no choice but to cover up the story if they were to save their father from greater anguish. Nevertheless, this deception caused our Sages to call them liars. This teaches us that such deception is never justified. It is better to tell the truth. A person must have the courage to suffer the consequences which arise from telling the truth, rather than to hide behind a lie.

How could Yehudah have burnt something sent by Pharaoh? The answer is that even though the wagons which were sent as a gift from Pharaoh had great financial value, this made no impression on Yehudah, who, for the sake of doing G-d's will, was willing to sacrifice any amount of money. Since the wagons had idols engraved upon them, Yehudah wanted no part of them, and subsequently destroyed them. This teaches us that when there is something in our house which is below our spiritual level, we need not refrain from eliminating it because of the financial loss involved.

To understand the symbolism in Yoseph's reminding Ya'akov that he, Yoseph, was learning about Eglah Arufah, we should know that when a murdered body is found, the Sages are to bring a calf and kill it, after which they pronounce the following statement: "Our hands have not spilled this [person's] blood." 4 This denial is necessary because it is conceivable that the Sages could have prevented the murder by providing escorts for the traveler, so that he would not have been in danger during his journey.5

This statement in the laws of the Eglah Arufah might have been the essence of Yoseph's message to Ya'akov. He was in effect vouching for his brothers' innocence by implying that their hands had spilt no blood, that is, they carried no blame for acting improperly. Yoseph was trying to convey to Ya'akov that there was no reason for him to be angry with the brothers for selling Yoseph to Egypt, since it was all part of a Divine plan, so that the family would move to Egypt and thus survive the years of famine. 6In this way, Yoseph wanted to clear his brothers of any guilt.

Lying Destroys Trust in Marriage

A11 the lessons taught in the above midrash can be applied to married life as well. First, the question of lying to your spouse should never even arise. When you lie to your spouse, this is a betrayal of trust. The whole idea of marriage is to share, and when one lies to the other, there is no sharing possible any more. Such a couple begins to live separate lives. To avoid this terrible destruction of the closeness of a marriage, it is always much better to talk difficulties over frankly together and try to iron things out, than to cover problems over with a lie. Even though lying might seem easier at the time, over the long term it creates more problems which will be harder to solve later on.

On the other hand, we do find that one is allowed to tell a "white lie" for the sake of shalom bayis. In this regard our Sages tell us that G-d changed the words of Sarah when she said, "and my husband is old."7 Instead of this, G-d quoted her words as: "and I have become old," 8 in order to prevent Avraham from being insulted by this remark. 9 When someone says something derogatory about his or her own spouse, we also should never repeat it to the person spoken about, so as to avoid unnecessary friction. (This example has very specific applications and should not be used as an excuse to lie when it is convenient.) Whenever possible, one should not conceal anything from one's spouse. A couple should share the burdens and the joys of life together.

The consequences of lying mentioned in the midrash apply to married life as well. "Rabbi Chiya learned, 'This is the punishment of the liar, that even when he tells the truth, he is not believed."' Once one discovers one's spouse telling a lie, he or she will never be completely trusted again. Therefore it is always counterproductive to lie.

The second lesson of the midrash is the burning of the wagons, which teaches us not to consider financial loss when something is spiritually harmful in the home. When it comes to anything that can be an educational deterrent, there is no room for compromise. Even if your spouse will be hurt by your determined stand to rid the house of the harmful object, the education of your children (and your own spiritual growth) must come first.

The last lesson was that of the EglahArufah. Here we see that Yoseph tried to tell his father not to blame the brothers, because he knew that the whole incident had been orchestrated in Heaven. At first glance the brothers would appear to be blameworthy, so he tried to intercede and point out that the whole incident could not have happened were it not the Divine will. This is a lesson for us to apply when we feel hurt or insulted by our spouses. A person should always remind himself that any hurt he suffers is planned for him in Heaven, and therefore there is no reason to be angry with his spouse. Our Sages say, "A person does not hurt his finger below, unless it was decreed Above." 10

The more we learn to practice such tolerance, the stronger will our marriage become.

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