The Instability of Falsehood

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Parashat Mishpatim 5772


It’s over. Sigh.

From the beginning of Sefer Bereshit until Parashat Yitro, it’s been fun. Just one great story after another.

But it’s over.

Starting with Parashat Mishpatim the Chumash becomes a much more “legal” text. There are still stories, but infrequently.

My goal with Thinking Torah is to apply our Torah to every day life. I want to especially focus on interpersonal relationships.

Even in a section like Mishpatim I think there is good material for us to ponder.

My Chosen Verses

Here is the translation from Judaica Press of Shemot Chapter 23:6-8:

6 You shall not pervert the judgment of your poor man in his lawsuit.

7 Distance yourself from a false matter; and do not kill a truly innocent person or one who has been declared innocent, for I will not vindicate a guilty person.

8 You shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe will blind the clear sighted and corrupt words that are right.

Remember, this translation is just meant to be a help. My questions are based on the Hebrew.

My Questions

Shemot 23:6

What does it mean to “pervert the judgment”?

Why does it say “your poor man” and not “a poor man”?

Why mention specifically a poor man? Is this verse teaching me that it’s OK to pervert the judgment of other people?!?

Shemot 23:7

Why does the verse say “mi-d’var sheker” and not just say “mi-sheker”?

What is the difference between “clean (naki)” and “righteous (tzadik)”? The English combines these two words as a translation “truly innocent.” Is that the idea here?

Why might I have thought that God would vindicate the guilty (wicked, rasha)?

Shemot 23:8

Does a bribe literally blind a person or is this just a figure of speech?

The end of the verse “corrupt words that are right” seems like a figure of speech, so maybe the beginning is also.

Sheker – Falsehood

This is the concept I want to focus on this week.

How untrue does something have to be to be false?

Is there a continuum with true on one end and false on the other and all shades of true/false in between? Does the Torah sanction a white lie? Or perhaps it’s black and white with a sharp demarcation between them?


Let’s look at some (sadly) common examples.

1. The wedding invitation says that the ceremony will be at 7 pm sharp. It never is.

In fact, if you call that afternoon, they will say something like, “Yeah, the invitation says 7 pm. We hope to start by 7:30.” Why didn’t the invitation say 7:30?

2. A man is eager to get married. He’s good looking, takes care of himself, and has a successful career. He looks like he’s only 25.

But, in fact, he is 32. Can he tell the matchmaker that he’s 25? If the matchmaker knows his real age, can she tell people that he is only 25?

3. A company knowingly gives false information to the tax authorities. This action will cause some of the employees to eventually have lower pensions than they would have otherwise. Must the company disclose this fact to each affected employee?

Even if these actions are permitted, should we do them? Maybe doing them causes us to think too casually about the importance of truth and the instability of falsehood.

Your Turn

Please share your questions and suggested answers in the comments.


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