Once we leave it to human understanding, we allow people to rationalize their behavior. A fellow will say that it is within his rights to behave improperly because of any of a number of convoluted reasons we have all heard before. If the law is not Divine and is not immutable, it is left to mortal men to twist its interpretation to jibe with one’s needs and wants.
It is only if people grasp that the laws of honesty are as holy as those relating to kashrus, kedushah and taharah, that they won’t engage in twisted conjecture. As the posuk warns, “Ki hashochad ye’aveir eini chachomim.” Bribery blinds. There is no greater bribing force than a person’s appetite for money. There is nothing as blinding as jealousy. There is nothing as tempting as the allure of quick financial gain. Were it left to man to act ethically according to his own perceptions of what is proper, there would be plenty of room for him to inject his own corrupt assumptions into his dealings with his fellow men.
Torah is not open to human interpretation. In that sense, it is a closed book. It is immutable and permanent. Stealing is stealing. Lying and engaging in subterfuge to gain an advantage, even over a dishonest person, is an aveirah and inexcusable. Just as an ehrliche Yid understands that there is no way to make kosher an animal which isn’t properly shechted, so does he know that he may have no benefit from money that isn’t honestly earned. An ehrliche Yid isn’t tempted by the seductions of the rich life. He is abhorred by improper gains. They have no appeal to him.
Thus, Chazal learn from this posuk that one who looks to secular courts for his legal questions and disputes, commits a chillul Hashem, because by not turning to people who are well-versed in Torah law for adjudication, one demonstrates that he doesn’t truly believe that financial laws are not manmade. He believes that the laws of business are rational; dictated and decided by the logic of man.
The posuk states (23:7), “Midvar sheker tirchok – Distance yourselves from falsehood.” The truth must be our benchmark. Fidelity to the truth is what defines us. When we are tested, we are not to compromise the truth in order to protect our positions and our station in life. We must do what is correct al pi Torah, without making cheshbonos.
Each generation draws its strength from its forbears who were moser nefesh to transmit the Torah in its entirety to their descendants. While each generation faces its own individual trials and tribulations, the admonition of midvar sheker tirchok, along with every single law in the Torah, is eternally applicable.
There is no justification for lying or dishonesty in any facet of our lives. If we want to be good Jews, we will make no distinction between any of the laws of the Torah in terms of the time, effort and diligence we expend in fulfilling them.
The test of our emunah and bitachon is whether we follow the laws of mishpatim and Choshen Mishpat with the same care that we demonstrate with respect to the other mitzvos handed down at Sinai.
One of the questions a Jew is asked by the Bais Din Shel Maalah is whether his financial dealings with fellow Jews were honest. It is the essence of the Jew for all ages. We all know stories about people who forsook fame and fortune because they weren’t sure that the conduct such attainments would have necessitated was entirely permitted according to hilchos Choshen Mishpat. Some of us view these as tales of an era gone by.
Fear of failure, competition, and the vast amounts of money necessary to get by in our world lead people to abandon the laws of Sinai. They justify chicanery, because they view financial laws as fungible and bendable when they feel it is necessary. They feel that life is unfair and seek to make allowances in order to balance out the scales of propriety.
It starts with small lies, with minor acts of deception, and then it snowballs. Once a person feels that the halachos of mishpatim are based on human reasoning, he opens the door to self-righteous deception. He begins the vicious spiral with half truths and white lies, and before long he is a dishonest, unscrupulous scoundrel. Yet, in his own mind, he is still an observant tzaddik, worthy of honor and emulation.
A person who knows that Choshen Mishpat is an equal component of shemiras hamitzvos as Orach Chaim and Yoreh Deah is one who is someiach bechelko, because he knows that Hashem treasures him and values his sacrifice. He knows that what he owns is properly his and is not the product of an ill-begotten effort.
And there is more. If laws are manmade, then they are subject to the limitations of man and to the spirits of the times of the people who formulated the laws. Much the same as we look at photographs of people from five years ago and mock their choice of eyewear and can’t imagine why anyone would wear such glasses, so too, in but a few years, we will wonder why anyone wore dark, round, plastic frames. They will seem so strange. But today, they are in vogue, and style-conscious folk would rather bump into objects as they walk about than not wear them.
Laws are much the same and reflect the philosophical style of the period in which they are written. Anything devised by man is subject to biases and prejudices and thus cannot be expected to be long-lasting. Empires rise and fall in a matter of centuries as their underpinnings falter. Systems of jurisprudence subject to human intervention are constantly evolving with the times and are manipulated by changing perspectives. Only the laws of the Torah are eternal, for they were fashioned by He who created man to be as long-lasting as man is. The laws were created for the betterment of man and with all his needs in mind. They represent the ultimate authenticity necessary for the functioning of a perfect society and are unaffected by whatever perspectives hold sway at any given time.
Perhaps this is the reason why the parsha opens with the laws of eved ivri. At the time the Torah was given, until very modern times, a feudal system existed. People would enslave the less privileged among them. People were taken advantage of and treated in a most brutal, heartless manner. Way back then, the Torah admonished man not to sell himself as a slave and at the same time, forced slave-owners to treat their slaves better than they treated themselves. The laws were unbound by the temperament of the times and much more progressive than anything man could have conceived when they were delivered on Har Sinai. They remain so today.
One who brings his matters to a secular court denies that and subjects himself to the modern day interpretations of truth, which are constantly changing and are unbound by a permanent tradition and legitimacy. He denies that the Torah laws were written by a Creator for the benefit of the humans He brought into being. He substitutes temporal, impeachable findings for permanent justice and rectitude.
One who utilizes chicanery and thievery to advance himself and his interests is also denying the rules the Creator put in place by which man can progress in life. He is denying that one who leads his life according to the halachos of the Torah will lead a blessed and successful life. He thinks he can outsmart Hashem’s system for achieving permanent success. Such a person demonstrates through his conduct that he is deficient in his belief that Hashem guides the world and mankind. He denies that what he attains is Divinely ordained, as we say on Yom Kippur, “Kevakoras ro’eh edro, maavir tzono tachas shivto,kein ta’avir vesispor vesimneh vesifkod nefesh kol chai vesachtoch kitzvah lechol briosecha…”
Honesty is not only the path to a guilt-free, successful and fulfilled life. It is a testament to our devotion to Torah and mitzvos and our emunah and bitachon. Being honest and forthright not only makes us better people and more capable of getting along with others socially and functioning in a civil society. It makes us better Jews.