That morning is indelibly etched in my mind. I was sitting in my cobalt-blue car, waiting in a turning lane on LaVista Road, when I was jarred from behind.
The sickening bump threw me into shock mode. This can’t be happening, can it? In slow motion, I turned off the car and got out.
I was the first car in a lineup of three, and the other two ladies who got out looked as stunned as I felt.
“Is everyone OK?” I asked in a voice I didn’t recognize.
“It was all my fault,” a girl who looked to be in her late teens or early 20s cried out. She was the third driver and had pummeled into Car 2, which was propelled into my rear bumper. “I was putting on my makeup.”
My jaw dropped when I heard her confession, and I noted the eyeliner pencil still in her hand.
Is she nuts, I mused, or just incredibly, admirably honest? And exactly how honest is a Jew supposed to be?
The question whirled in my mind numerous times after that episode. (To satisfy your curiosity, my car was totaled, and now I drive a fiery-red car instead of a cobalt-blue one. And I did get to my exercise class that morning. Most important, all involved were relatively unscathed.)
Judaism promotes honesty and abhors mendacity. Regarding lying, it is the only commandment for which the Torah warns, “Stay far away from falsehood.”
As a growing Jew, someone who tries to be faithful to our tradition and its mandates, I want to do the right thing.
However, we know there is room for untruth. If telling a fib will promote peace, it is considered appropriate to twist the facts. That covers a rainbow of scenarios, from complimenting a person’s purchase or appearance to covering up a nasty comment that someone’s friend said about him. Life is filled with opportunities to plumb the depths of creativity to build up a person, even if that entails some alterations of reality.
My test came several months ago when those telltale flashing blue lights were right behind me. What had I done? I pulled over, my heart hammering against the walls of my chest.
The officer meandered over to me, wearing a tough, condescending expression. Do they learn those mannerisms in police school?
“License and registration,” he demanded without explanation. I complied, a thousand questions on the tip of my tongue.
“Didn’t you see the stop sign?”
“Of course, officer,” I replied.
“Why didn’t you stop?”
“Of course I stopped.” I was indignant. Why was he citing me for something I didn’t do?
“You can either pay the ticket or fight it in court,” he told me 15 minutes later, handing me the yellow slip along with my documents.
“Be safe now,” he added snidely, chin held high as he sauntered back to his vehicle.
I nodded and wished I could thank him for ruining my day. But that would have taken honesty a little too far.
As I drove home, I ruminated. I know I stopped. But had I made a rolling stop or come to a complete halt? That was questionable.
That’s where my dilemma comes in. I can go to court and insist that I stopped. But there is that niggling uncertainty: Am I prepared to swear or affirm that I did come to a complete stop?
Let’s move to a different scenario. There’s a challenge at our gym. Some of the activities depend on an honor code: Was I sure I had done the mandatory 100 sit-ups and 50 squats, or had I missed a few? Would it hurt anyone if I said I completed the assignment?
That niggling uncertainty pushed me to do a few extra, just in case; I wanted to be trustworthy. I wanted to distance myself from lying.
When money is involved, it often becomes more challenging. How often do we claim a child is younger so we can pay a smaller price? The more money we stand to save, the greater the temptation to resort to untruth.
What do you say, readers? Is it OK to lie for the small stuff? Or are we supposed to curtail every nuance of our behavior for a uniform approach of adherence to honesty? I welcome your input; I have to appear in traffic court in a few weeks’ time. The judge, not only the human one, will be listening.
Please respond by Wednesday, March 22, to firstname.lastname@example.org.