A Bisl Torah

White Lies

It’s a great scene in the Torah: angels of the Lord visit Abraham and Sarah. One of the divine emissaries explains that in one year’s time, Sarah will have a son. Sarah laughs to herself and says, “Now that I am withered, am I to have enjoyment—with my husband so old?” But the angel of God says back to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I in truth bear a child, old as I am?’” The angel switches the blame. Sarah references her husband’s old age, but the angel tells Abraham that Sarah only mentions her own feeble body. Why was the angel willing to mask Sarah’s words?

The Midrash explains that Sarah is deliberately misquoted to preserve “shalom bayit” between husband and wife. That sometimes for the sake of a peaceful household, a white lie here and there is permissible, sometimes necessary. That holding back some of the details is an artful form of communication if one knows exactly which pushed buttons may send a loved one fuming with anger or dissolve into tears.

Lying isn’t always the answer. The Talmud explains that “such is the punishment of a liar that, even when he speaks the truth, no one listens to him.” Meaning, if we lie often, our reputation is tarnished, our integrity compromised. It is a terribly hard dance: use our words to preserve a relationship, use our words to preserve the truth.

What seems clear is the amount of care and devotion we are meant to pour into our relationships. The words we use, the tone we take, the ways we show our affection and love. Even the slightest slip in a sentence stings like the bee and wounds like the sword.

May the ones we love feel our kindness and care—through our words—the ones we say and the ones we don’t.

Shabbat Shalom

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