Judaism is concerned with the ethics of our everyday actions, even those seemingly harmless. For example, a woman walks into a store to get information about buying an air conditioner that she has NO intention of buying in that store. She asks the proprietor of the store all kinds of questions regarding the best air conditioner to buy. Afterwards she goes home and buys her preferred air conditioner online for a better price. She’s done nothing wrong. She has just made sure she was an educated consumer— right? Wrong! According to Jewish law she misrepresented herself, acting as if she would make a purchase at the store and falsely getting the salesman’s hopes up. There is nothing wrong with shopping for the best price as long as one has the possible intention to make a purchase.
According to our Torah portion this week, Behar, we should not “misrepresent” ourselves and create an impression that is false. It’s not exactly lying; it’s more subtle than that. There are many ways to create a false impression, sometimes through commission and sometimes through omission. To take a seemingly benign example, someone assumes you are kosher and you are not. You do not contradict him or her because you feel that puts you in a better light with that particular person. However, your lack of speaking up has created a false impression. You have deceived them by not correcting their impression.
This is a very demanding standard when it comes to honesty. What’s behind it is acting according to the truth of your intentions and identity, a powerfully important lesson to impart to children. How many times do they wish to pretend they are other than they are? Teaching them that it is essential to behave authentically in the world is a basic lesson in honesty. Except in play, don’t pretend actively or passively to be who you’re not. Your relationships with others can only be real if they rest on honest assumptions. Being truthful about yourself is a habit of personality that begins in childhood.
TALK TO YOUR KIDS about exaggerating their accomplishments with others.
CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:
- Do you ever pretend to be something you’re not with your friends?
- Do you ever allow others to believe something about you that isn’t true?
- How do you think your friends would describe the real you? Is that really who you are?
- Is it correct behavior intentionally to waste another person’s time and effort solely for your own advantage?
By Rabbi Dianne Kohler-Esses
Values & Ethics—Through a Jewish Lens is created by Fred and Joyce Claar to bring the wisdom of Judaism into family discussions.