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Bamidbar 5771

Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20 )

by Kalman Packouz

GOOD MORNING! When are you allowed to lie? When my eldest son, Avraham, was 6 years old his friend desperately wanted him to come play at his house. "Come to my home. I'll give you cookies and milk!" My son became very upset -- not because he didn't like the incentive, but because his friend had used the gambit before and hadn't delivered on his offer to provide cookies and milk.

"George, you are such a liar! You always promise and you never give. I'm going to call the police on you for lying and have them put you in jail!" He then got the phone number of the police -- and called them. "Do you put people in jail for lying?" he asked into the telephone. This was followed by, "Uh...huh, Uh...huh, good, ok, thank you, goodbye."

Meanwhile, George is shaking in fright. "Are they coming to get me? Are they going to put me in jail?" My son answered, "No. The policeman said that is wrong to lie and that you shouldn't do it again!"

Where in the Torah is the prohibition to lie? In the Book of Exodus (23:7), the Almighty tells us, "Keep far away from a lying word." The Talmud, Sanhedrin 92a, expresses the severity of lying by comparing it to idolatry. Idolatry is defined by thinking that anything other than the Almighty has power to accomplish something; putting one's faith in his lies would be akin to idolatry. In another tractate of the Talmud, Sotah 42a, liars are listed amongst those who will not behold the Divine Presence in the World to Come. It brings support from the verse in Psalms (101:7), "He who spreads falsehood shall not be established before My eyes."

Yet, we see that there are times when it is not only permissible to deceive, it is laudatory. In the story of the Spies, Caleb tries to quell the growing revolt against going up to the Land of Israel by posing as an ally of the other spies who had fomented the crowd. According to the Talmud, Sotah 35a, Caleb cried out, "Is that all that the son of Amram (a derogatory way of referring to Moshe) has done to us?" The crowd quieted to hear Caleb's calumny, but instead Caleb tried to turn around their sentiments by continuing, "He took us out of Egypt, split the sea, brought us the manna and gathered together the quail."

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin presents a compilation of the basic laws regarding lying in his book Love Your Neighbor (available at your local Jewish bookstore, at or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242). Here are the parameters:

1) It is permitted to tell an untruth to make peace between two people who are having a dispute, or to save someone from harm. For example, you may tell someone that a person with whom he has quarreled now regrets his behavior, even if it is not true -- if you have no other option. Your words should be as close to the truth as possible.

2) If your host was very hospitable, you should not tell an unscrupulous person about the hospitality extended, since he might take advantage of the host.

3) When someone asks you for information that if you answered truthfully would constitute rechilus, (talebearing -- needlessly telling someone what another person said or did something against him) -- you should tell him a lie rather than relate that information.

4) You are permitted to tell an untruth out of humility to not draw attention to yourself.

5) You are permitted to deceive someone who is trying to deceive you in order to save yourself from being cheated. However, you may not deceive someone to revenge a past wrong he perpetrated upon you.

6) You are allowed to praise something that someone has acquired, though it may not deserve that praise.

7) You may lie to save someone's life.

8) A teacher may say an incorrect statement to see if his students are paying attention or remember their learning

9) It is not lying to make a statement that everyone knows is an exaggeration, i.e.. "I told you a thousand times."

By the way, my son calling the police in front of his friend worked. I saw the kid 20 years later and he grew into a fine young man!


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Torah Portion of the Week

In the second year of travel in the desert, Moshe and Aharon were commanded by the Almighty to count all male Israelites between 20 and 60. There were 603,550 available for military service. The tribe of Levi was exempt because of their special duties as religious leaders. (It is probably from here that countries give divinity deferments to clergy and divinity students.)

The twelve tribes were directed regarding the formation (three tribes were on each side of the Portable Sanctuary) in which they were to camp and travel.

The 22,300 Levites were commanded in the Sanctuary service. The family of Gershon was to transport the coverings of the Sanctuary. The family of Kehos carried the Ark, Table, Menorah and Altars. The family of Merari transported the boards, pillars, bolts and sockets.

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states, "And the Children of Israel did all that the Almighty commanded Moshe -- that is the way they encamped according to their flags ... and that is the way they traveled, each person according to his family together with the house of his father" (Numbers 2:34). Why does the Torah exalt the Jewish people for listening to Moshe in this matter? Why would anyone think that they wouldn't have listened?

The Torah is telling us that they did not quarrel about who would lead or who would be at the end when they traveled. They accepted the Will of the Almighty and did not complain or argue.

Unfortunately, in many places arguments arise and events spoiled when people are not satisfied with the seating arrangements. Arguments and complaints are usually based on arrogance and honor-seeking.

The Sages (Talmud, Taanis 21b) said, "It is not the place that honors the person, but the person who honors the place." If a person is honorable in wisdom and behavior, wherever he sits he remains honorable. If a person lacks virtue, wherever he sits will not make him honorable.


Feed your mind -- Israel, Torah, personal growth, relationships.

Feed your body -- excellent food.

Excite your soul -- an inspiring Shabbos!

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May 27-29th, Stamford Plaza Hotel, CT To register: or contact

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Every rule has its exception
and this rule is no exception.
-  The Kotzker Rebbi


Dedicated to

Rabbi Kalman Packouz

for his devotion to the Jewish people

Rabbi Yochanan Zweig
Talmudic University, Miami Beach




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