According to 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant, “By a lie, a man… annihilates his dignity as a man.” Kant’s contemporary, Rabbi Pinchas of Koritz taught: “Habitual liars have an inclination to idol worship and heresy, for truth and faith embrace one another.” In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain echoed Rabbi Pinchas: “You cain’t pray a lie!”

The Torah anticipated these writers, insisting, Mi-Dvar Sheker Tirchak – “Keep far from a false matter” (Exodus 23:7). This Commandment reflects a deep appreciation of human nature… and our frailties. It is insufficient to avoid brazen, bald-faced, outright lies. We are to “keep far” from such offenses. To omit or to spin the truth… to allow or to facilitate misunderstanding… to tolerate deceit and duplicity without protesting… all these run afoul of the Torah’s sweeping mandate for truth.

While lies are pernicious in our personal interactions, they can be especially damaging when perpetrated by those in positions of leadership… and when countenanced (or defended) by their constituents. “Public confidence in the integrity of the Government,” said Adlai Stevenson, “is indispensable to faith in democracy; and when we lose faith in the system, we have lost faith in everything we fight and spend for.”

Just as we keep our distance from lies, we wisely keep our distance from liars.

(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)

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