“I’m sorry I was late. I left home in plenty of time, but the roads were like a parking lot.” “I did try to call you last night, but your phone must have been busy or out of range.” “No, you didn't wake me; I’ve been up for hours.” “Tell them that I’m not home.” “When I tried to pay, the machine wouldn’t accept my money.” “I’m almost positive that the meeting I missed was really scheduled for next week.”

I lied.

Even as I said it, I knew that I was doing the wrong thing. I do regret it, but it is just so much simpler and more convenient than admitting to the truth. It used to bother me, but I’ve outgrown the guilt.

What’s so terrible, anyway? It’s not as if I was intending to harm anyone. Just a little white lie for short-term gain, with no obvious pain to come.

“Get thee away from falsehood”1

There are 365 negative commandments in the Torah, a laundry list of forbidden attractions. Obviously, some come easier than others. I am yet to be tempted into worshiping esoteric idols, and many of the more adventurous forbidden sexual relationships don’t interest me. I’ve pretty much got a handle on avoiding non-kosher and working on Shabbat, but the ones about interpersonal behavior still drive me crazy.

Yet, of all the “thou shalt nots” in the Bible, the only thing that G‑d directly commands us to avoid is falsehood. G‑d is content to forbid the other crimes and misdemeanors, and leave the strategy up to us. For example, if I feel an inordinate attraction to non-kosher seafood, I should stay away from the fish market; but if the thought of prawns and lobster repulses me, it’s probably safe to take a stroll between the stalls. Similarly, with other sins, I don’t have to be more religious than G‑d and the sages recommend; as long as I don’t actually indulge in the forbidden act, there is nothing intrinsically evil about it per se.

However we are specifically enjoined to distance ourselves from falsehood. In other words, not only is there a mitzvah to tell the truth under all circumstances, even at the cost of occasional humiliation, expense or inconvenience, but we have to absolutely avoid any trace or wrinkle of falsehood.

G‑d is watching

It is so tempting to lie or stretch the truth; no one likes admitting to incompetence or worse. It’s far easier to fight a parking ticket than to meekly pay up, and who can blame a person for trying to stay one step ahead of the system?

However, if we truly believed that G‑d runs the world, then deceitfulness must be seen as self-defeating. It is an axiom of religious belief that G‑d is watching our every action, and when I attempt to deceive people, I demonstrate nothing but cowardice and lack of faith. Health and wealth depend exclusively on G‑d’s blessing; I’m not fooling Him, so what do I really gain by lying?

Dishonesty is a trap. One lie drags another inexorably in its wake. There is no way to get off the train of deceit, other than to resolve—once and forever—that from now on, no matter the cost or loss, I will tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

So help me G‑d!