How Do You Undo a Lie?
My son and I were watching a preview on TV about cyber-bullying. The preview started a conversation about cyber-bullying, name calling, and otherwise attacking someone’s character. He asked me about the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
I have heard many sermons on gossip, and of course we all know that lying, ‘Bearing false witness’, is a sin because it’s a commandment. I told my child these things, but nothing illustrates a point like a good story.
As Grace would have it, on the very day my son was to ask me this question, I heard a story about a Rabbi.
There was a wise Rabbi who did his best to teach his students, but he was a tough teacher. He was particularly hard on his most promising student. This student became frustrated and angry with the Rabbi. After class, he told some fellow classmates a lie about the Rabbi. He and his fellow students thought it was funny. But, the lie began to spread. Each student took the lie home to their friends and to their families who also began to spread the lie as the truth.
The next day the student heard a much bigger and more serious version of the lie from someone else, and he felt remorse. He realized he had wronged the Rabbi and needed to ask for his forgiveness. He gathered his courage and went to see the Rabbi.
He hung his head and wrung his hands as he sat before the Rabbi. “Rabbi, I have sinned against you. I told a lie about you, and I seek your forgiveness.”
The Rabbi was silent and thought for a while, “Son, you are one of my brightest students, and I am glad that you have asked for my forgiveness.”
“Do I have it?” asked the Student.
“You will have it, but first you must do something for me,” said the Rabbi.
“What? Anything! Just name it and I will do it because I really need your forgiveness in this matter.”
The Rabbi said, “Go and buy me two feather pillows and bring them to me.”
The Student did as the Rabbi asked, and returned with the pillows. “Rabbi, I have the pillows. Now do I have your forgiveness?”
“Not so fast,” the Rabbi said, “Take my knife and go outside on the street and cut a slit in each pillow. Once you’ve done that, empty every feather out of each case and return to me with the empty cases.”
The Student puzzled, but did as the Rabbi asked. He cut the pillow cases, and shook out the pillows. He emptied every feather from the cases and watched as the feathers scattered in the wind.
The Student took the empty pillow cases to the Rabbi and said, “Rabbi, I’ve done as you asked, now do I have your forgiveness?”
The Rabbi said, “You shall have my forgiveness, but I ask you to do one more thing. Go take these empty pillow cases and fill them with every feather that was in them. I ask you to do this as an act to demonstrate recovering all the harm you have done to my good name.”
When I finished the story, my son’s eyes grew wide and then he said, “Wow.”
I can think of no better way to explain the harm of a lie, gossip, or cyber-bullying than this parable. Words DO hurt, and they are impossible to contain once released.
May your words be compassionate and encouraging today.