The Truth About Lies, Part I – Parshat Shemot

Is it okay to lie? If so, in every situation? And what is so 'okay' about white lies? Are they okay as long as no one gets hurt? Is it okay if it's only to cover up my own faults (ie. The dog ate my homework)? And what's ok with that?

Before I start, I wish to make it clear that I am not yet providing answers (for I am not sure that I have those answers) but, rather, opening up a question to ponder how we approach life and our relationship to others...and ourselves.

The Jewish midwives mentioned in parshat Shemot, whose profession is not usually part of political intrigue and trickery, were requested by Paroh to become part of a silent conspiracy, whereby Jewish babies would be killed during childbirth. Though the Torah does not note their immediate response to Paroh, in the very next verse we read that they not only blatantly disobeyed his order but even gave sustenance to these newborns, for they feared a higher power, God. After some time, Paroh calls them back asking them why they gave sustenance to the newborns. Their answer is non-direct at best, an outright lie, or, in the context of being able to save people's lives, possibly even the best possible answer they could give. They said that they always got there too late because the Jewesses gave birth quickly.1

The commentaries agree that they were trying to deceive Paroh but are split as to whether they were lying or giving an evasive answer hoping it would be accepted.2 Either way, no one would fault them for their answer under these circumstances. They were trying to save the lives of these newborns as well as their own. The Torah tells us that these midwives were rewarded for saving these newborns. The means justified the ends.

But what can we learn from it? How can this help us in our own individual search for meaning3?

Is truth an overriding value? Is honesty always the best policy? Or maybe we could follow the tongue in cheek takeoff – 'honesty is always the best policy…except when it isn’t.' How have we reacted in these situations? How do we wish to be seen? The questions are endless.

I particularly enjoyed an idea of Dr. Martha Beck. In order to even make a proper decision about this, we need to follow this rule: "Always tell yourself the truth."4 We owe it to ourselves. This at least helps give perspective and strength. It also gives us the basis on which to rely when we make this decision.

Perhaps I will just end for now with a different question: How can I grow from this?


*The name of this blog, I afterwards discovered, is similar to several other writings on this theme – most being called 'The Truth about Lying.' The theme is a broad one and will be covered in future blogs.


  1. Shemot 1:15-19
  2. Or Hachayim and Ibn Ezra for instance.
  3. The search for meaning is the basic motivating human force according to Viktor Frankl, founder of logotherapy
  4. The title of her article is "When Is It Okay To Lie?",

Have A Great Shabbat!laughing

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