“Shimon ben Shatach says, “Examine the witnesses thoroughly, but be careful with your words, lest from them they learn to lie.”
And the ArtScroll Siddur says “be cautious with your words, lest they learn to lie.”
That seems to imply that the words themselves can learn to lie. I liked the literalness of that and thus the title… But do words lie or learn to lie? Clearly people lie and use words to lie, but as far as I know, words do not lie on their own. What I get out of this passage is that we need to always be careful with our words, in the literal meaning of this, as we talk about judges and the law, and also in our own, personal lives.
When it comes to the literal meaning in the text, Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld writes: “Judges, while interrogating the litigants and witnesses, must take care not to be overly pointed or aggressive. The witnesses may catch on to the judges’ direction, and may begin to answer according to what they anticipate the judges are seeking.”
He continues with: “The truth or lack thereof of each position should speak for itself.”So as we sit as judge or in judgement, we need to be careful to not try to lead someone to saying something. The phrase “live and die by the sword” could be tweaked slightly to read “live and die by the word(s).” People need to think carefully before they speak, but most importantly, they need to speak the truth. This is so essential. The truth is essential… to everyone and everything, but as Jews we know how important it is to always seek the truth and always speak the truth. Not sometimes… ALWAYS!In addition to my own personal struggles, I seem to take on the woes of the world. Maybe I watch the news too much. Or go online too much. But I am acutely aware of so many things going on around me. It is hard to put it in perspective at times. Like others, I want answers and clarity and some true understanding that it is going to get better or make sense. Faith and Emunah and a trust in Hashem is essential but we also cannot live in a bubble. If we truly have Free Will then we must take responsibility for our own actions and realize that there are things we can do, and damage we can cause.
We are judged first and foremost by our actions, but words do matter. Oh, how words matter. Words are significant, and what people hear and how they interpret them matters. Clearly we have control over the former, and not as much over the latter, which is why we need to put great thought into our words and choose them wisely. A friend and I were speaking the other day and he asked if I thought Jews were held to a higher standard and if we should be. I don’t have an issue with being held to a higher standard. A double standard, yes. But a higher standard, no. This would seem to be part of what it is to be chosen by Hashem, and to choose Judaism and that relationship back.
So words matter… and the lack of words matter. Adrienne Rich says: “Lying is done with words and also with silence.”
We must not stand by when the truth is at stake. We must not let others take on the battle and do nothing. Words matter and so do actions. Maybe even more so. The means matter. Judaism teaches us so many lessons regarding this, discussing how we should behave and act.
So let us think before we speak, but let us make sure we are always speaking up, and speaking out. Let us be cautious with our words, and with our actions, so that they don’t lie… so that we don’t lie.