[Avodah] A Three-Day Journey

Akiva Miller kennethgmiller at juno.com
Wed Jan 9 03:09:50 PST 2013

Here's a link to last year's article on Vayera from Britain's Chief Rabbi Sacks:
http://www.chiefrabbi.org/2012/01/21/covenant-conversation-5772-vaeira-freedom-and-truth/  or use this one: http://tinyurl.com/bbj79rv

In my opinion, he raises an important question, and phrases it quite powerfully, but his answer is not nearly as good as his question is, and I'm hoping that someone can either offer a better answer, or show me what I missed in his. 

He brings seven stories in Chumash where a tzadik deliberately tells a half-truth, with the deliberate intention of deceiving someone. These are not outright lies, but they have all been topics of many divrei Torah which ask how such a tzadik could possibly do such a thing.

The first six stories are from Bereishis:

1) 12:13 - In Egypt, Avram asked Sarai to say that she is his sister. 

2) 20:2 - By Avimelech, Avraham said that Sarah was his sister. 

3) 26:7 - In Gerar, Yitzchak said that Rivka was his sister. 

4) 31:20 - "Yaakov deceived Lavan by not telling him that he was fleeing."

5) 33:13-14 - Rabbi Sacks writes that Yaakov's speech to Esav, "though not strictly a lie, is a diplomatic excuse."

6) 34:13 - After the rape of Dina, Yaakov's sons answered Shechem "with mirmah."

7,8) In Sefer Sh'mos, both last week (5:3) *and* this week (8:23), Moshe asks Par'o for no more than a 3-day furlough. And these were not merely Moshe speaking on his own initiative, but at Hashem's command (3:18)! Even as late as after the ninth makkah, in 10:24-26, Par'o still thought that the exodus would be less than total, and Moshe refrained from correcting this misimpression.

Over the years, many have written and spoken about each of these, explaining the tzadik's actions, but on a case-by-case basis. In contrast, Rabbi Sacks tries to find a common thread, writing that these "episodes cannot be entirely accidental or coincidental to the biblical narrative as a whole..."

My problem is that I don't follow his answer. I would summarize it here, but that would run the risk of misinterpreting his words, and I invite everyone to read the article itself. Suffice it to say that he makes some sort of distinction between then and now, in which then the deceptions were necessary, whereas now we aim to a higher standard.

But I do not see the distinction between then and now. If the ends justify the means, that logic should hold in *any* shaas hadchak. Did Hashem's seal become Truth only after Yetzias Mitzrayim?

What real need did Moshe have to deceive Par'o about the nature of the Exodus? Sure, one could argue that it was to damn Par'o even further, with the kal vachomer that if he would not release us even for a short trip, then a permanent release was a foregone conclusion. But that (and arguments like it) only work on a case-by-case basis. In context of all the other stories, it does seem to me that Truth might have been less important before Yetzias Mitzrayim. That makes me very uncomfortable, and I'm hoping that someone can help me out.

Lest anyone suggest that the answer lies in these stories all being pre-Matan Torah, when the issur of Mid'var Sheker Tirchak did not yet apply, my response is this: I'm not talking about the *mitzvah* of telling the truth. I'm talking about the "middah* of telling the truth, and that's something which applies in all places and all times.

Akiva Miller
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