Eruvin 51 מדבר שקר תרחק and telling an untruth for people’s good

My next few daf posts, admittedly slightly behind, are dedicated in loving memory of our dear Rosh-Yeshiva of Yeshiva-college, South Africa, Moreinu haRav Avraham Tanzer of blessed memory, who passed-away peacefully last night in Johannesburg.

It is thanks to him, that I, and countless others, started on our journeys in Torah study as children, and that I, and so many others, have had a long and successful career in Torah Chinuch as adults.

I also hope to share in this forum some personal thoughts and experiences about my relationship with the Rosh-Yeshiva and what I have learned from him in the coming weeks, Hashem willing.

With wishes of comfort and a long and good life to his holy Rebbetzin, children, and grandchildren, and to all his family of students around the world.

Yoni Isaacson/Ramat Beit-Shemesh.

There is an incredible story with the two leading third generation Amoraim of Bavel, Rabbah and Rav Yosef, who were on a walking journey home on erev shabbos and realized that they would not make it to the techum of their homes before shabbos.

Rabbah relied on the leniency we have been discussing that allows a poor person ( a traveler being considered a poor person regarding this law) to set aside his shabbos base from a distance in a place that is within 2000 amos both of their current position and that of their home , thus allowing them to get home on shabbos.

Rav Yosef responded that he was not familiar with that place, and Rabbah suggested that he rely on the Beraisa that brings Rabbi Yosi’s view that if one of the travellors is not familiar with the designated place, his companion may declare the shabbos base on his behalf together with his.

The Gemara then notes that Rabbi Yossi was not really the author of the quoted Beraisa, but that Rabbah merely told Rav Yosef that he was in order that he would accept the ruling, given the stature of Rabbi Yossi.

We should note that Rav Yosef was not some newly religious zealot or regular community member who needed “permission” from a great Rav to do something .

He was Rabbah’s colleague, known also as רב יוסף סיני after his superior breadth of knowledge, as opposed to Rabbah who was known as עוקר הרים- ” an uprooter of mountains- after his superior analytical skills ( see Brachos 64a.)

It is simply mind boggling that Rabbah would attempt to mislead Rav Yosef in such a way and that Rav Yosef with his superior knowledge of Beraisa’s would be misled, unaware that the quoted Beraisa was not the view of Rabbi Yossi.

Whereas it is possible that this event occurred at the time in Rav Yosef’s life when illness had caused him to forget his learning (Nedarim 41a) , it seems beyond understanding how a leading sage like Rabbah, could “lie” about the authorship of a Beraisa to get Rav Yosef to listen .

The Torah is the ultimate truth, the true Kohain has the Torah of truth in his mouth (Malachi 2/6), the seal of Hashem is truth (Sanhedrin 64a) , and we are warned clearly in the Torah “מדבר שקר תרחק” – ” distance yourself from falsehood.” )Shmos 23/7)

This command is taken so seriously by Chazal that someone who knows the law is on his side but lacks 2 witnesses to testify in his favor is not permitted to bring a second witness just to stand there to strengthen the words of the other ( see Shvuos 31a)

We seem to see from here that truth is not simply a utilitarian means to an end but also a means in itself- even lying for the sake of justice is problematic.

Whereas the context of the passuk and the above quoted sugya is clearly focused on a court situation, the passuk is also interpreted in a broader sense as referring to gossip and talking falsehood in general (see Rishonim on the passuk and the discussion regarding a bride in Kesubos 17a for an example)

Despite the above, we cannot escape the fact that there are some exceptions to the command to stay away from falsehood.

Yaakov Avinu himself was told by his mother, presumably prophetically, to lie to his father about his identity.

Chazal too tell us that for the sake of peace, it is sometimes permitted not to tell the whole truth, and that even Hashem did so with Avraham and Sarah, the angel did with Manoach, and we erased Hashem’s name in the case of the Sotah, (Bamidbar Rabbah 11/6.)

They also taught that Torah Scholars are accustomed to “change” their story in 3 cases- regarding his personal life ( for modesty reasons,) regarding his hosts generosity( to prevent others from taking advantage of this generosity, and regarding his knowledge (for reasons of humility – (Bava Metzia 23b and Rashi there)

It appears that there are some values such as peace, humility, modesty and shielding others from being taken advantage of that are even higher values than telling the objective truth.

This does not apply to one’s own financial benefit, even when the law is on one’s side, as seen in the above quoted sugya in Shvuos, but does seem to apply in the above instances.

It seems from the case on our daf that this is the case when it comes to the welfare and/or convenience of one’s neighbor or colleague.

Given the extreme discomfort that being stringent would cause Rav Yosef, and possibly even some risk to his wellbeing, given his age and health, Rabbah was prepared to compromise on the absolute truth of the identity of the lenient opinion’s author, seeing as he was himself of that opinion in any case.

Given the various mitigating factors in this case, and the severity of making false statements in general, it is clear that extreme caution is required in applying this leniency to other situations, but we can certainly learn the importance of helping others be lenient when permitted in cases of inconvenience- as Chazal have taught us – כח דהתירא עדיף – the power of leniency is preferred )see eg brachos 60a), a principle that might be given new meaning by this story!

Rav Tanzer of blessed memory, embodied the combination of dedication to Torah, truth, and helping others that we learn from this story- It is see who spread the truth of Torah in South-Africa over almost 60 years, at first going from door to door begging parents to enroll their children in his once fledgling and now flourishing Torah school in an age where this was almost unthinkable for most parents.

Yet the same Rosh-Yeshiva was never unnecessarily stringent at other’s expense, and always applied the principle of כח דהתירא עדיף to make life as easy for people as the halacha allowed him to do, even if it meant following more lenient opinions that colleagues of his were uncomfortable with.

After all, if Rabbah went to such lengths for Rav Yosef whose spiritual motivation hardly needed protection, how much more so is this necessary in a time and place where undue stringency can hurt, chase away or burn-out the very people we try to bring near.

These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.