Bending the Truth

Bending the Truth for the Sake of Peace

Question: May one lie to one’s father or mother so as not to cause an argument between one’s parents?

Answer: The Torah states that when Sarah heard that she would conceive a son, “Sarah laughed to herself and said, ‘After I have become worn out shall my skin become smooth? But my master is old!’” What this means to say is that Sarah was saying that since Avraham Avinu was close to the age of one-hundred when she was notified that Yitzchak would be born from them, Sarah thought to herself that such a thing was impossible since Avraham was so old and that he would never be able to father a child at this point. Later, when Hashem came to Avraham and asked him, “Why is it that Sarah laughed?,” he changed her words somewhat and told him that Sarah said, “I have grown old,” meaning that she blamed the fact that they would not be able to conceive any longer on the fact that she was very old. Our Sages in Masechet Baba Metzia (87a) deduce from here that one may bend the truth for the sake of peace as we find that Hashem bent the truth slightly so as to cause harmony between Avraham and his wife, Sarah.

Rabbeinu Yehuda Ha’Chassid writes in his Sefer Chassidim that if one carries out a certain task which one’s mother requested him to perform and afterwards his father asks him why he has done this and one knows that if he tells his father that he has done so as per his mother’s request that this will cause an argument to ensue between his parents, one should not tell his father that his mother has told him to do so; rather, one should bend the truth for the sake of peace. The source for this is the Gemara that we have mentioned regarding Avraham and Sarah. Maran zt”l rules accordingly.

We must make mention, however, that is extremely important that one not become accustomed to lying for the sake of peace on a consistent basis; rather, one must try to avoid, wherever possible, situations that will cause one to lie. Similarly, the Gemara in Masechet Yevamot (63a) relates that Rav, one of the greatest Amora’im, did not merit living harmoniously with his wife. She would always ask him which food he would like to eat upon returning from the Bet Midrash. If he replied that he would like a dish of lentils (which are somewhat sweet), she would prepare him a sour dish and vice versa. She would do this deliberately to cause him angst and to create an overall sense of discord in the home.

When Chiya, son of Rav, matured and realized the extent of his mother’s actions, this upset him very much, but he found a solution. Every time his mother would ask what his father would like to eat, he himself would go and ask his father what wished to eat. If his father would reply that he would like something sweet, he would tell his mother that his father wished to eat something sour and vice versa. In this way, Rav received exactly what he wanted to eat every day. Indeed, Rav even thought that his wife had mended her ways and wished to stop tormenting him. When Rav eventually found out what his son had been up to, he called him over and told him not to do this anymore, for the verse states, “They trained their tongues to speak falsehood,” meaning that when a person accustoms himself to lie consistently, although he may be doing this in a permissible fashion, his tongue becomes accustomed to saying lies. Indeed, the verse states, “A speaker of lies shall not settle before My eyes,” for falsehood is exceptionally abhorrent to Hashem.

Summary: One may bend the truth for the sake of peace; however, one should be careful not to grow accustomed to lying, even if it is in a permissible manner.