Torah is a Torah of truth. It can be no other way. After
all our Torah is a description of G-d, with each mitzvah
representing a different aspect of the Divine. One of the
thirteen attributes of G-d is truth and thus lying is a
distortion of G-d Himself. Hence the Torah warns that we
must run away from falsehood.
Of all of the Biblical personalities it is Yaakov who is associated with the principle of truth, titen emet leyakkov, give truth to Jacob (Micha 7:20). This appellation seems quite odd. After all Yaakov deceived not only his brother but his father as well. I am your elder son Eisav (27:19), Yaakov declared. Worse still, his was a premeditated lie, replete with alibis and collaboration with others.
It is through the life of Yaakov that we see the importance of truth and the potential consequences of its abandonment. Yaakov Avinu was punished greatly, measure for measure, for his deceit. He was fooled into marrying the wrong wife, Lavan tried to cheat him out of hard earned wages, and his children deceived him regarding the whereabouts of Yosef. Not surprisingly he died at a younger age than his father or grandfather. The Midrash even claims that as a result of Yaakov causing Eisav to cry a loud and bitter cry (27:34) his descendants would also cry a loud and bitter cry (Esther 4:1) at the hands of Haman.
Our commentaries point out that Yaakov was a reluctant participant in Rivkas plan to fool Yitzchak. He questioned his mothers strategy and only went along with it to please her. In fact some Sages point out he was even hoping to get caught. Furthermore it could be argued that this lie was perfectly legitimate. After all Yaakov had purchased the birthright from his brother, Eisav really had no interest in any form of spirituality and truly was not a worthy heir to the heritage of Yitzchak and Rivka. So whats a little deception for such a noble purpose! This argument in fact is true. True but irrelevant.
It is true that Judaism does on rare occasions sanction lying, provided the lie promotes peace. Thus Aharon HaKohen was wont to tell a white lie to promote marital harmony. This deception of Yaakov and Rivka did anything but promote peace. Yitzchak when he realized what had happened was full of fear and trembling, Eisav wanted to kill his brother and as result Yaakov had to flee for his life. This deception resulted in the separation of Yaakov and his family for a period of at least twenty-two long hard years all because of a justifiable lie.
Our Sages understood that lying, no matter what the reason, has detrimental effects on a persons character. What begins as a justifiable lie very easily mushrooms into gray areas and then into areas where no justification can be found. Nonetheless the attainment of peace is so important that for this purpose, and this purpose only, we will allow a white lie.
We live in a generation where half-truths, distortions and outright lies have become common place. In fact many are so good at lying that they do so with ease. Modern pro da techniques have shown that no matter how preposterous the lie, if it is repeated often enough the majority will accept it.
Yaakov learned from his experiences the importance of truth. In fact it is Yaakov who becomes the model of the faithful employee putting heart and soul into his duties even when dealing with such an unscrupulous employer such as Lavan.
Yaakov Avinu learned that even for religious goals one must not distort the truth. Of all the patriarchs it is only Yaakov whose children all remained within the Jewish fold. We must learn the importance of complete honesty and integrity for our children, our community and ourselves. Shabbat Shalom!