Chofetz Chaim: Lessons in Truth
Daily studies in honesty and fundamentals of Jewish faith
By Rabbi Shimon Finkelman
Mesorah Publications, Ltd.
SEFER SEFAS TAMIM -- Preface
King David taught: “Which man desires life (chofetz chaim), who loves days of seeing good? Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit...” (Tehillim 34:13-14). Therefore, it is only natural that Sefer Chofetz Chaim, which teaches us how to guard our tongues from the evils of lashon hara, should be followed by “Sefas Tamim” (“Sincere Speech”) which contrasts deceit and its punishments with honesty and its rewards. Sefas Tamim is drawn from many works, especially the classic ethical text Shaarei Teshuvah (Gates of Repentance) by Rabbeinu Yonah.
The Talmud relates (Avodah Zara 19b) that R’ Alexandri once walked through the streets announcing, as would a peddler, “Who wants life, who wants life?” Everyone crowded around him and begged, “Give us life!” He quoted our verse, “Which man desires life... Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit...”
What did R’ Alexandri tell the people that they did not already know from the verse? R’ Eliyahu Meir Bloch explained that one might have thought that King David’s words are intended only for those who aspire to a life of utter righteousness. To be a tzaddik, one must avoid gossip and deceit. But if one does not have such aspirations, then perhaps a bit of gossip or crookedness is to be expected! R’ Alexandri taught that this is not so. David is telling every Jew that avoiding lashon hara and dishonesty is the key to a good life in this world and the Next.
Honesty and sincerity are keys to a good life in both worlds
R’ Yissocher Frand relates the following story:
A man came to his Rav with a troubling question. “Rabbi, I don’t understand. I come from a very distinguished religious family, I am quite learned and I am meticulous in observing every detail of halachah. Now, Mr. ________, as you well know, is a simple man from a simple family. He keeps what he knows, which is not very much.
“Yet I have not merited to see nachas from my children, while every one of Mr. ________’s children is a gem. Can you explain this?”
“Are you prepared to hear something painful?” asked the rav.
“Yes,” the man replied.
“You entered the business world with nothing and worked very hard to be successful. But your approach was not at all straight; you would bend the rules to accomplish your goals, you could say one thing and mean another. That’s what your children saw, that nothing really means anything.
“However, Mr. __________, as you said, is a simple man -- simple and sincere. I am certain that he has never told a lie willfully. That is what his children saw and that is why they are the way they are.”
Yes, honesty and sincerity are keys to a good life in both worlds.