Stay Far Away
"Distance yourself from a false matter" (Shemos 23:7). The Pele Yoatz writes that this refers to speaking sheker (lies and falsehoods). The words, "distance yourself" are not used by the Torah in reference to any other sin. Therefore, one can see how harmful it is to speak falsely. We must stay very far away from a lie. The Orchos Tsaddikim lists nine different categories of sheker. Some examples include not fulfilling a promise, or saying that you did something when you really did not do it.
Children . . .
Sometimes we are careless and break a plate. Then Imma comes into the room and asks, "Did you break the plate?" To say "no, Imma" might seem easy. There will not be any scolding or punishment. However, Hashem heard our words. His punishment for sheker is much worse than what would happen if we admitted the truth to Imma. A person who becomes a habitual liar will have many problems in his life. Besides all of the sins he accumulates, he loses his credibility, both to himself and to others. Even when he speaks the truth, he will not be believed. As Avos D'Rebbe Nosson writes (30:4), "This is the punishment of a liar. Even when he tells the truth, they do not believe him."
There are many mitzvos in this week's parsha that cultivate the character trait of rachmonus (compassion). For example, lending money to a poor person, returning the animal of your enemy, helping him unload his donkey, being especially careful about how we treat a convert, widow, or orphan. The Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 66) tells us the source of these mitzvos. Hashem wants us to become accustomed to doing acts of chessed (loving kindness). By giving us so many opportunities to help other people, and have compassion for them, we purify ourselves and become kind and compassionate people. Hashem, who treats a person the same way that person treats others, will then act with kindness and compassion toward us.
Children . . .
Let us look at these mitzvos one at a time. Rashi explains that Hashem wants us to feel the suffering of the poor person, and lend to him in an honorable way, without embarrassing him. If we lend to others, then Hashem will protect us from poverty. Children, the next time we receive money, instead of going out and buying a treat, let us give it to Abba to give to a gemach (free loan fund) to lend to people who need it. That is our way to fulfill this mitzvah.
We have to be thankful, children, that Hashem gave us family. They help us with everything we do in life. As we said last week, who does more for us than our parents? Unfortunately, there are people without family. They do not have the help that family will provide. Therefore, we have a mitzvah to be like family to them. The Sefer HaChinuch says (Mitzvos 63 & 64) that we have to treat the convert, the widow, and the orphan with extra special care. Speak to them very softly and nicely, and help them in any way that we can. Give them the benefit of the doubt in all matters. Rashi takes it one step further and says that the mitzvah applies to all of the Jewish people. Boruch Hashem, children, we get a mitzvah every time we are considerate and treat a person nicely.
I Don't Believe It
The Chofetz Chaim zt"l, in Chapter 6 of his monumental book on loshon hora, points out that the source of the prohibition against believing loshon hora is a verse in this week's parsha. "Do not accept a false report (Shemos 23:1)." If someone makes a derogatory statement, do not believe it! It was spoken by a person who speaks loshon hora! A person who transgresses the prohibition against speaking loshon hora, now becomes suspect to speak falsely and exaggerate (Sefer Chofetz Chaim, Hilchos Loshon Hora 7:3). Therefore, we cannot rely upon him to tell the truth.
Children . . .
We can all think of reasons why the speaker may have been mistaken in loshon hora he spoke about the other person. Maybe he did not see the whole event or hear the whole story. Perhaps someone exaggerated when telling the story to him. It is possible that he did not understand the person's motivations. When we stop ourselves from believing the loshon hora, and instead judge the accused person favorably, we get an extra mitzvah of dan lechaf z'chus. As the Chofetz Chaim zt"l writes many times, being careful about loshon hora is the main way to stamp out sinas chinam (senseless hatred), increase unity among the Jewish people, and bring Moshiach speedily in our days.
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