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"Distant yourself from a false word" (Shemos 23:7). The Commentators point out that the Torah does not declare here, "Thou shalt not lie," (or something similar, as it does in Vayikra 19:17). Rather, the Torah commands us to distant ourselves from a false word. This is because it is not enough not to say a blatant lie. The Torah wants us to be totally truthful and as far away from falsehood as possible.
In Torasechah Sha'ashuai it is related that a young student asked Harav Shach zt"l if it is ok to let his friends copy from him during a test since they are pressuring him to allow them to do so. Harav Shach responded that they should have studied harder and been better prepared for the examination. Wanting a clear answer, the boy persisted, "and if they did not." Rav Shach answered, "Don't get involved in cheating." The boy accepted the answer but wanted to understand it fully so he asked again; "Does it fall under the category of lying (which is a very stringent prohibition) or merely fooling people (which is likewise forbidden but is not as severe)?"
"It constitutes not being ehrlich (honest; trustworthy)," responded the Rosh Yeshiva. "That is the greatest sin of all!"
I remember when my mother, may she be well, sent me to Yeshivas Chasan Sofer for the first grade. The Friday night of my first week there, my father, may he be well, called me over to him for a father-to-son talk. "You are a yeshiva bachur now," he began solemnly. "Do you know what the greatest sin of the Torah is?" "Not believing in Hashem," I replied. "That is the foundation of Judaism," my father retorted. "But I mean practical sinning. What is the greatest sin a man can commit?" When I replied that I did not know, my father said to me, "To tell a lie. That is the greatest sin of all."
Rav Ya'akov Kaminetsky zt"l, like his namesake, the Patriarch Ya'akov, was outstanding in the trait of Honesty. Many facets of his life were affected by his impeccable love of absolute truth. He would frown on anything that was not completely distant from falsehood. This included many aspects of common behavior.
When my oldest son, Yussie, was almost three years old, I told him that on his birthday I would take him to several tzaddikim (righteous men) for a berachah (blessing). When the big day arrived, he asked me to whom we were going. I said that I had arranged to visit the Rebbes of Satmar, Skulen and Skolia ztvk"l. Being a little brighter than most boys his age, Yussie asked, "Why don't we go to Rabbi Kaminetsky too? He's a big tzaddik!" I agreed, and we went to Reb Ya'akov before leaving Monsey for Brooklyn. I told Reb Ya'akov what my son had said and he found it amusing.
Turning to the birthday boy, Reb Ya'akov asked, "What would you like?" Although he was bright, Yussie couldn't resist answering the question honestly. "A candy," he said. Reb Ya'akov clapped his hands together and exclaimed, "He's right. I should have offered him a candy. The problem is that the Rebbetzin (Rabbi's wife) is not home and I don't know where she keeps them. But I'll go look for one." With that, the venerable sage went into the kitchen to search for a treat for a little boy.
When the Rabbi was out of earshot, I turned to my kid and said, "Hey, is that what we came here for. Didn't you say you wanted a berachah from Rabbi Kaminetsky? If he asks you again what you want, say, 'a berachah.'"
Reb Ya'akov did find a candy and handed it to Yussie. Then he asked him, "What do you want now?" This time, Yussie replied, "a berachah." Reb Ya'akov blessed him, "May you be a lamdan (a deep Torah scholar) and an orntlicher mentsh (orntilch is a difficult word to translate; it is probably best understood in the British connotation of a 'Proper Person')."
Yussie was happy with the berachah and the candy and Reb Ya'akov began to discuss some things with me. Suddenly, Yussie tugged at my coat. I bent down to him and he whispered to me, "Where should I throw the paper wrapping of the candy?" Reb Ya'akov asked me what he had said, and when I told him, his face beamed. "Dos iz (this is) an orntlicher mentsh," he exclaimed happily.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network