Rashi on Numbers 14:24:1:

רוח אחרת.

My translation:

A different spirit (intention)

"Two spirits. One verbal and another in his heart. To the spies he said, "I am with you regarding your counsel", but in his heart he wished to say the truth. By this, he had the strength to quiet them (the co-spies) as stated (Numbers 13:30) "Kalev silenced them". Since they thought that he would say as they did. This is what is meant when it says in Joshua 14:7, "And I answered him word as was in my heart" - and not according to what was in my mouth."

This implies that he lied / deceived his co-spies.

Generally, the Torah forbids lying or deceiving others. Why was he allowed to do so in this case? Please support answer by citing halachic principle showing that this was an exception to the prohibition.

  • 2
    pikuach nefesh.
    – ray
    Jun 11, 2015 at 20:45
  • @ray Somewhat speculative. The spies were considered "honorable men". Also, strategically, it would have been foolish to kill him on the journey assuming that this is when they would find out his intentions. It would make their story less convincing if people discovered that they had killed Kalev.
    – DanF
    Jun 11, 2015 at 20:55
  • not at all. i read a parsha sheet citing the zohar that they tried to lift the fruits but were unable until kalev came and was able to. this was a sign he would inherit the land and out of jealousy they wanted to kill him until he prayed and they were able to carry the fruits.
    – ray
    Jun 11, 2015 at 21:06
  • @ray interesting midrash. If this is online, please send a link.
    – DanF
    Jun 12, 2015 at 2:55

2 Answers 2


The prime example given by the Talmud of an overriding reason to allow misleading statements is in the interest of maintaining peace (whether marital or otherwise). This would seem to be all the more so a compelling reason when the peace in question is between G-d and the entire Jewish people.

See Yevamot 65b:

וא"ר אילעא משום רבי אלעזר בר' שמעון: מותר לו לאדם לשנות בדבר השלום שנאמר (בראשית נ, טז) "אביך צוה" וגו' "כה תאמרו ליוסף אנא שא נא" וגו'. ר' נתן אומר: מצוה, שנאמר (שמואל א טז, ב) "ויאמר שמואל איך אלך ושמע שאול והרגני" וגו'. דבי רבי ישמעאל תנא: גדול השלום שאף הקדוש ברוך הוא שינה בו דמעיקרא כתיב (בראשית יח, יב) "ואדוני זקן" ולבסוף כתיב "ואני זקנתי

And R' Ilea said in the name of R' Eleazar b. R' Simon: A person may change what has been said for the sake of peace, as Joseph’s brothers said “Your father commanded… please forgive.” (Gn 50:16) R' Natan says: this is a commandment, as it is written “Samuel said, ‘How can I go? If Saul hears it he will kill me.” (1 Sm 17:2) The school of R' Yishmael taught: peace is so important that even the Holy One, blessed be He, altered what was said for its sake! For at first, [Sarah says] “My husband is old” and afterwards, [when G-d repeats her words to Abraham] it says “I am old.” (Gn 18:12)

See also: http://www.jlaw.com/Articles/hf_LyingPermissible.html


Although we often invoke Midivar Shekker Tirchack as the Torah's command not to lie, it is not really a biblical prohibition. That pasuk is actually discussing beis din and witness. When the Gemara discusses keeping your word in business it invokes another verse, הין צדק איפה צדק.

This still does not apply to a lie in conversation. For that we have the pasuk, דובר שקרים לא יכון לנגד עיני. The Gemara lists four groups of those who won't merit to accept the shechina. These are the haughty, the flatterers, liars and gossipers. So, while it is definitely not recommended, it is more of a midos issue than an actual sin. The same applies to haughtiness and flattery.

The Gemara in Bava Metzia gives three areas where a Talmid Chochom can lie: not to take credit for what he learned, for tznius, and not to announce a good host for everyone to converge. These aren't incidents of one mitzva colliding with another. It is weighing importance.

Another example is Beis Hillel's famous retort that just as when you make a purchase you would want people to tell you it was worth it, we should also praise the bride even in virtues she does not posses.

So as we see there are overriding factors. Kalev weighed the situation and realized that the way to get through it would be to act as he did.

  • 1
    There are rishonim who view מדבר שקר תרחק as a generic biblical prohibition (e.g. S'Ma"K §227 and Y'rei'im §235, though the latter limits this to a case where harm could result from the lie).
    – Fred
    Jun 11, 2015 at 20:44

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