Wednesday, July 17, 2013

It's not just the best policy (part 2 of 2)

Continued from part 1

I was absolutely amazed by Rabbi Paysach Krohn's approach because I always feel out of sync with the rest of the world in my belief that you should only say what you mean and avoid lies, especially to children. Though it was more than 20 years ago, I vividly recall hearing a man get up to say a speech in honor of his elderly mother on her birthday. He recounted that one time she was going out with his father, and he was upset about her leaving. To quiet him, she said she would buy him a special toy (he said it was the equivalent of an Erector set). She didn't buy it, though, admitting that she only said that to get him to behave the way she wanted. I was doubly  appalled: One, at the fact that she lied to her son in that way, and two that he publicly recounted this story as if it reflected well on her. Though I was years away from being a mother at the time, I thought that 's really not the most vivid memory I'd like my kid to have about me. But here's the thing: no one looked as horrified as I felt. They must have seen it from his point of view as a clever instance of the end justifies the mean. And I had to think, if everyone else sets the norm for behavior, what does that mean for my standards?

So it was a real relief to hear Rabbi Krohn say that this kind of thing is absolutely wrong. He cited the Gemara in (Sukkah 46b  that enjoins parent to to keep their children from lies,  warning they they should always keep their word to their children. He also referred to the famous story of Rav who told his son not to lie to his mother even for the sake of shalom bayis (I copied it from http://www.vbm-torah.org/archive/aggada/04a-aggada.htm with some modification):
Rav was vexed by his wife. If he asked her to make lentils, she made peas. If he asked her to make peas, she made lentils. When his son Chiya got older, he (Chiya) would reverse the request (and then his mother would make what the father wanted).
Rav said to his son: "Things are going better with your mother."
Chiya said: "I am switching your orders to her." 
[While this was very clever and seemed to be toward a most commendable end of shalom bayis, his father still insisted that his son cease and desist]
Rav said: "This is what people say (a Talmudic expression for a popular adage): The one who comes from you teaches you good sense. You should not do this, as the verse says, 'They have taught their tongue to speak lies and weary themselves to commit iniquity' (Yirmiyahu 9:5)." (Yevamot 63a)
Becoming used to lying -- even white lies that seem to cause no harm -- can dull one's sensitivity to adhering to truth, and that set one on the slippery slope of dishonesty. Rabbi Krohn included a number of examples of children who either lied or requested that their parents lie on their behalf after seeing their parents misrepresent the truth for their own gain.

His last story was about a father who refused to allow his son to lie even for a virtuous act. The family had a preemie who needed regular transfusions. The father decided that he would like to give blood -- to add to the blood bank stores, if not to actually go to his baby. His sixteen-year-old son said he'd like to give blood, too. So the father took him along. The room for blood donation bore a sign that declared the minimum age for blood donation was 17. The father told his son that he can't give. The son tried to argue that he's close to 17. His father wouldn't hear of it. The son offered to ask a rav if he can misrepresent his age in this case. His father wouldn't hear of it. He said, "no rav can make you 17." And that was the end of the son's attempt to give blood that time. I'd be happy to end the story here, but it does go on.

About a week later, the 16 year-old was in a terrible car accident. He lost a huge amount of blood and needed immediate transfusions of concentrated blood before even being transported to the hospital. The doctors said that he was very close to dying from loss of blood. Had he donated blood the week before, he would not have had enough in his body at the time of the accident to survive. The boy's mother declared that this is an example of the apt juxtaposition of "Mi haish hechafetz chaim?" [Who wants life?] with the injunction to avoid bad and false talk: "Netzor leshoncha mera usfathecah midaber mirma"

1 comment:

Orthonomics said...

If I was there, I would have had the same horrified look. We should all strive for our words to be straight and true.