Number nine of the BIG ten, the most universally known of the commandments, or statements, since there are, after all, 613 commandments. And number nine sounds simple enough doesn’t it? A command that you wont “lie on” someone, as we used to say as kids.
While teaching, one of my friends gave an example of bearing false witness that went something like this:
“What if the window as broken and the Rabbi came and asked ‘Who broke the window?’”
“Assume Josh was standing near and window. And the window was broken, but you didn’t see Josh break the window. Then you cannot say, ‘Josh broke the window.’ Understand?”
One of the other students, a young girl, piped up, “What if we THINK Josh broke the window?”
“If you didn’t see it, then you can’t tell the Rabbi that it was him,” the teacher answered.
“What if I saw Josh and he was really mad that morning?” the young girl persisted.
“If you tell that it was him and you didn’t see it, no. That would be bearing false witness.” And so on.
Toward the end of the discussion, the girl cocked her head in thought for a moment. She recalled that the kitchen window in the synagogue had been broken some months ago. It was found to be an act of vandalism. The police had been involved. Having put together this teaching example and an actual occurance she asked, “Was Josh the one that broke the kitchen window?”
We laughed a little bit about it afterward. “Why is she so interested in believing that Josh broke a window?” The teacher asked aloud. I think the answer and the incident goes a long, long way toward a deeper understanding of the commandment not to bear false witness. The experience says something on a larger scale about our make up, our human nature, that makes us SO inclind to want to blame; even when presented with information that the story was not true-from the original source-the little girl wanted to find her friend guilty. Or at least press hard enough and give enough unfavorable information, for someone else to…
Pehaps that is why we are also reminded to “judge everyone favorably”. Because we so NEED to be reminded.