By Rabbi Daniel Travis
When she [Tamar] was being taken out [to be burned], she sent [the
collateral which she held as security] to her father-in-law with the
message, “I have conceived through the man who is the owner of these
essays.” [When Yehudah came she said,] “Please identify who is the owner
of this seal, this wrap and this staff.” (Bereshith 38:25)
Tamar did not wish to embarrass Yehudah publicly, so she merely hinted to
him that she was not guilty of prostitution. Rather, she had drawn Yehudah
into a situation in which he would father her children, which was actually
his responsibility under the circumstances.1 Had Yehudah not taken the hint, he might have killed
Tamar, along with the twins she was carrying. We may well ask how anyone
can live with the responsibility of being a judge, a position which may
force him to impose the death penalty – perhaps incorrectly – as Yehudah
almost did? A small error on the judge’s part could lead him to spill
In prohibiting falsehood, the Torah informs us that guarding oneself
against falsehood is “insurance” that one will not be misled in this
way. “Distance yourself from falsehood,” says the Torah, and immediately
afterwards it says, “The innocent and the righteous you shall not
kill.”2 From the juxtaposition of these
two phrases we learn that someone who is meticulous about avoiding all
falsehood will never find himself the cause of the death of an innocent
person. Because Yehudah put his honor aside in deference to the truth, he
was saved from spilling innocent blood. Someone who deceives another, on
the other hand, is considered as if he killed him.3
Not only does truth protect the lives of those with whom one comes in
contact; it protects one’s own life as well. This point is dramatically
illustrated by the story of a young man who wished to donate blood. His
father took him to the hospital for that purpose, but when they arrived,
they noticed a sign stating that only someone over the age of seventeen
was permitted to give blood. Nevertheless, the son, whose seventeenth
birthday was but two weeks away, pleaded with his father to allow him to
give blood. The father was always very strict about acting only in
accordance with the truth, and he would not give in; he simply refused to
allow his son to give blood. The boy returned home, greatly disappointed.
Not long afterwards, the boy was injured in a car accident. His doctors
said that had the boy been allowed to lie about his age and donate blood,
he would not have survived the accident.4
Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky was one of a number of righteous individuals who
attributed their longevity to the fact that they were always careful to
tell only the truth.5 They knew that
the truth protects one’s life.
1 See commentary of Ramban on Bereshith 38:26.
2 Shemoth 23:1.
3 Ma’aloth Hamidoth, Ch. 3.
4 Echoes of the Magid, pp. 140-142.
5 Moresheth Avoth, Bamidbar, p. 62.
Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org