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Walking Uprightly: Further thoughts on Mishpatim...

Walking Uprightly...

Further thoughts on Parashat Mishpatim

by John J. Parsons

In our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Mishpatim) we read, "Keep yourselves away from a false matter" (Exod. 23:7). In this connection note that the Hebrew word for falsehood (or lie) is sheker (שֶׁקֶר), which can be rearranged to spell kesher (קֶשֶׁר), meaning a band, gang, or group of people... The power of the lie is often found in the "group" rather than in the individual, and if enough people in a group repeat something untrue, eventually the individual's conscience will be overruled and the truth will be lost... This is a common methodology regularly employed by mass media for purposes of political propaganda.

Regarding this commandment Abraham Twerski comments that it means we should act in a way that will not move us to "hide," and that includes hiding within the anonymity of the crowd. "Think about what you are about to do. Is there a possibility that you may at some time have to deny that you did it? If so, then do not do it" (Twerski on Chumash).

Each of us must individually strive to be yashar (יָשָׁר) - upright and honest, and free from the complications and devious speech that attends to lies. We are to be "simple" (תָּמִים) with the LORD our God (Deut. 18:13), which requires that we are first willing to be rigorously honest with ourselves. "No person is saved except by grace; but there is one sin that makes grace impossible, and that is dishonesty; and there is one thing God must forever and unconditionally require, and that is honesty" (Kierkegaard).

In this connection we note that the midrash teaches that the Hebrew word for "truth" (i.e., emet: אֱמֶת) is composed of the first, middle, and last letters of the alphabet, whereas the three letters that spell "falsehood" (i.e., sheker: שֶׁקֶר) all stand next to one another. Truth creates a firm foundation, secure, strong, and trustworthy, while falsehood is unstable. As it is written, "truth stands forever, falsehood has no legs."  In other words, the way of truth is "self-authenticating" and made secure, whereas the way of falsehood is  "unlivewithable" and made unsteady...

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