An invisible evil is always more difficult to defeat than one that is tangible, simply because of its diabolical way of camouflaging and hiding. In the frenetic everyday life of our days it is not easy to notice the roots of sin when they snake in the depths of the Spirit. Those who make use of the lie have been attacked by a virus that from the inside spreads through the mouth into the ether with the sole ambitious aim of infecting the World.
רַבָּן שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן גַּמְלִיאֵל אוֹמֵר, עַל שְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים הָעוֹלָם עוֹמֵד, עַל הַדִּין וְעַל הָאֱמֶת וְעַל הַשָּׁלוֹם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (זכריה ח) אֱמֶת וּמִשְׁפַּט שָׁלוֹם שִׁפְטוּ בְּשַׁעֲרֵיכֶם
Rabban Shimon ben Gamalielused to say: on three things does the world stand: On justice, on truth and on peace, as it is said [in the Scriptures]: “execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates”.
(Pirkei Avot 1, 18)
According to the Maxims of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot Chapter 1, 18), whoever lies not only damages himself and his credibility, but also creates a wound to the whole humanity that is able to progress thanks to the Truth. Lying destroys, while truth constructs and this principle is valid in every field of our lives, human experiences are handed down through truth and this facilitates posterity in their activities by fostering evolution. On the contrary, entire nations and civilizations are extinguished when the lie is undermined in the behavior of the people, starting from the base of the social pyramid, such as the merchant who uses double standards (Proverbs 20, 10), up to the top that battles for power in which members of the same family often fight each other with betrayals and lies. Every lie, even the smallest and seemingly irrelevant one, contributes to corroding that pillar on which the World stands, damagingly contributing to the formation of larger future lies. But those who hurt others with lies will surely soon be hit by the double-edged blade of the lie, because in the Eyes of GOD there is no distinction between minor and major sins, but only between righteous and sinners.
Lying always leads to sin and sin leads to death, but this is a truth that, although easy to understand, is often difficult to assimilate and adopt as a principle.
Table of Contents
Lie is never accettable
In Ketubot’s treatise (16 b) there is an interesting discussion between Shammai’s rabbinical school and Hillel‘s school, precisely about the “white lies”, those that apparently do no harm to anyone. The two schools of thought confront each other on how one should behave during the eulogy of a bride on her feast day, whether to stick to reality, and therefore keep silent or describe her for what she is, or rather praise her for her beauty and modesty, perhaps lying to please her. Well, the school closest to the Truth is certainly the one that chooses never to lie, because every believer has the moral obligation to show himself polite, turning empathetically towards others, but also to be truthful and honest in what they say. It is always better to say few true things, or even to keep silent, than to spread the lie with one’s own mouth, which still today remains extremely widespread in the World and unfortunately also among believers. The masters of Judaism in the treatise of Sotàh (32 b) condemn it as an extremely reprehensible guilt, as well as mixing the lie with the truth (Talmud Sanhedrin 89 b) because it makes one lose credibility even when the truth should be affirmed. Even those who do not have a developed predisposition to lie, but use it only when necessary and without bad intentions, well even this category is considered sinful towards man and GOD, because the believer has the obligation to always move away from falsehoods:
7 Distance yourself from a false matter; and do not kill a truly innocent person or one who has been declared innocent, for I will not vindicate a guilty person. 8 You shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe will blind the clear sighted and corrupt words that are right.
(Exodus 23, 7-8)
However we often let the integrity of our speeches be altered by the use of lies. When a dear friend asks us if he looks overweight in a certain outfit, or if a relative asks us something about a delicate matter, it seems to us that if we answer honestly we could cause shame and humiliation, and so in circumstances like these many people choose to tell a “white lie”. This kind of falsehood seems only apparently harmless, and in fact commonly according to society it is not considered as a real lie, because it is said only to prevent someone from getting hurt or maybe to protect themselves from uncomfortable situations. But if you meditate on what happened, you will certainly have to believe again, wondering why that friend or relative had questioned us. Well, he probably trusted us, counting on our truthful judgment and hoping that our words would have represented the reality of the facts, but instead with our white lie we betrayed him. We haven’t done him any good at all, and even if at first the truth might be stinging or painful, in the long run it will always bear the fruits that only an act of love can ripen, because truth is a good to be safeguarded, and a good always brings other good. The dividing line between “white lies” and other types of lies has always been suitably confused, because it is often easier and even quicker to lie than to give a truthful answer, but that may seem inconvenient to us. But making one’s own judgements about what is right or wrong for others, and what may or may not hurt our fellow man is a serious mistake for the believer, who puts aside his own fallacious judgment trusting only in the perfection of the Law. GOD through Scripture gives us the way and direction to follow so as not to harm ourselves and our lives, but also our neighbor, and through the 10 commandments (Exodus 20, 2-17) we can have a synthesis and grouping of all 613 precepts.
The 9th Commandment
“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor”, this is what the 9th commandment states, but what only apparently seems to condemn and refer only to “testimony” perhaps in a court or under trial, is instead a warning against all those who do not protect truth and justice in the world. This commandment includes other very important rules, mainly not to lie by always proclaiming the truth, but also all the other precepts in relation to it, such as not to do favoritism and not to practice corruption, and in fact a little later in the Book (Exodus 23, 1-7) this rule is explained in more detail:
1 Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness. 2 “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, 3 and do not show favoritism to a poor person in a lawsuit. 4 “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it. 5 If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it. 6 “Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. 7 Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty.
(Exodus 23, 1-7)
The term Sahadutà (testimony) that we find in the 9th commandment already appears in the Bible in the first Book of Genesis, when Laban comes to a truce with Jacob, placing a pile of stones as testimony, calling that place Yegar Sahadutà. So Sahadutà refers to any kind of testimony, and not only that in court. The punishment for those who contravene the commandment is reported in the Sefer ha-chinukh (mitzwàh 37) which explains how the lie is deplorable, precisely because the World stands on the truthful testimony that resolves the clashes between men, while perjury leads to the destruction of civilization.
16 There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to Him: 17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, 18 a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, 19 a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.
(Proverbs 6, 16-19)
It is interesting to note that these verses distinguish between “a lying tongue” and “a false witness spreading lies”, the LORD is really so against lying and perjury that Proverbs include both, as two of the seven things that GOD hates the most.
Likewise, in the prophetic and sapiential Books we find very harsh expressions towards those who utter lies, as for example in the Book of Jeremiah (Jer 9, 8-9) it is written: “Their tongue is a sharp arrow, uttering lies. With the mouth one speaks amicably to one’s neighbor, but within oneself there are pitfalls. Must I not punish them for this? Says the LORD. Shall I not have to do justice to a people like this?”. Likewise in the Psalms (Ps 101, 7): “He who acts deceitfully will not dwell in my house; he who utters lies will not last before My eyes.
The inventor of the lie
The first lie we find in the Biblical Text could come only from the greatest opponent of mankind, Satan, who begins his discourse by tempting Eve first by asking a deceptive question:
Did GOD really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the Garden?”
(Genesis 3, 1)
instead the CREATOR had only forbidden to touch a specific tree so Eve replied to the snake:
We may eat fruit from the trees in the Garden, 3 but GOD did say, “You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the Garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
(Genesis 3, 2-3)
And so Satan made up his deception by pronouncing the first lie in the Bible:
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.
(Genesis 3, 4)
Eve believed that lie, thus transgressing together with Adam at the command of the CREATOR and thus looming in death and the consequent expulsion from the Garden. All the tribulation of mankind was therefore a consequence of the power of a lie, to make believers understand how powerful false words can be, often much more than they are thought.
Islam also rejects lies and deception in all their forms:
Oh you who believe! Fear GOD and be with those who are truthful [in words and deeds].
(Quran 9, 119)
Even when sometimes we lie unconsciously, maybe not answering the phone, making our wife say that we’re in the shower or otherwise unable to answer, well that’s a lie too, and although there are other more vicious than that, just using a little falsehood will lead eventually to a bigger lie in the future.
Being truthful and trustworthy is one of the greatest virtues a man and woman can possess, while lying leads to the corruption of Spirit and deception. Oral Islamic tradition and historical sources report that the Prophet Mohammed (may peace be with him) said: “You must be sincere, because truth leads to justice and justice leads to Paradise. The true believer continues to tell the truth even when the lies around him surround him, and only in this way can he be recognized by GOD as siddeeq (i.e. truthful, just, who does not utter lies). The lie leads to immorality and immorality leads to the etrenal punishment of fire. Throughout his life, the Prophet Mohammad was known as al-amin, or “the honest one”. Even before receiving his revelation from GOD at the age of 40, he was so trusted in his community that people left their valuables with him because he was the only one worthy of trust. Therefore, Islam, like all other Abrahamic religions, condemns any kind of action that corrupts the Truth, because nothing that belongs to the darkness of sin can be uttered “for good”.
The seal of the LORD is the Truth (Shabbat, 55 b) it is easy to understand why we find so many prohibitions in Biblical Law concerning not lying. Surely it is difficult to deal with the lies present in the world, at work and in the many complex situations that can arise every day, but surely lying is never the answer to these problems. You cannot respond to evil with more evil, or you will simply end up reinforcing it instead of defeating it, only by completely eradicating the lie from our lives you can reach a higher state of consciousness that benefits first of all the present. Theology that speaks only of the future times and the Hereafter is only half complete doctrine, because the believers who rely most on GOD and the Law are those who find tangible benefits in their present, and eliminating the lie brings both benefits and gains to the present problems. If you don’t want to make mistakes in the future you have to stick to the pure and simple truth today, only in this way you won’t have to remember anything and not make painful mistakes.
In order to be pleasing to GOD and blessed in what we do, we must compulsorily erase the propensity to lie (Proverbs 12, 22), love what GOD loves, and hate the lie that GOD condemns and hates.
- Exodus 20:1-21, Deuteronomy 5:1-23, Ten Commandments, New Bible Dictionary, Second Edition, Tyndale House, 1982 pp. 1174-117
- Estrin, Daniel (5 May 2015). “Oldest complete copy of Ten Commandments goes on display in Israel”. www.timesofisrael.com. The Times of Israel. Archived from the original on 18 August 2018. Retrieved 16 August 2018.
- Stewart, Devin (8 January 2014). “Dissimulation in Sunni Islam and Morisco Taqiyya“. Al-Qanṭara. 34 (2): 439–490. doi:10.3989/alqantara.2013.016
- “Takiyya”. Encyclopedia of Islam. Edition II. 10: 134–5. 2000.