1) LYING FOR THE SAKE OF PEACE
QUESTION: Rebbi Ila'i teaches that one is permitted to alter the truth for the sake of peace. He derives this from the conduct of Yosef's brothers, who told Yosef that their father had commanded before his death that Yosef should forgive them for their sin (Bereishis 50:16-17), even though their father did not give such a directive.
Rebbi Nasan adds that not only is one permitted to alter the truth for the sake of peace, but it is a Mitzvah to do so. He derives this from Hash-m's command to Shmuel to tell Shaul ha'Melech that he was on his way to offer a Korban to Hash-m, when in truth he was on his way to coronate David ha'Melech.
D'Vei Rebbi Yishmael adds that "great is peace, for even Hash-m altered the truth for the sake of peace." The Torah relates that Hash-m told Avraham Avinu that his wife said, "Can I really bear a child? But I have become old!" (Bereishis 18:13). In truth, however, she said, "But my husband is old!" (18:12). Hash-m altered her words when He related them to Avraham in order to maintain their marital harmony.
There were actually two parts to Sarah's statement. She said, "After I have become old, how can I become youthful again," and then she added, "And my husband is old!" When Hash-m told Avraham that she said, "I have become old," perhaps He was quoting the first part of her statement ("after I have become old, how can I become youthful again"), and thus He did not alter her words at all. How is this verse a proof that one may alter the truth for the sake of peace?
(a) The MIZRACHI explains that Sarah's statement was not an expression of bewilderment about how she could regain her youth. Rather, her statement was a declaration: "After I have become old, I have become youthful again." Sarah indeed experienced a revitalization of her feminine attributes, as Rashi there explains. She wondered that "even though I have regained my youth, how can my husband have children -- he is old!" Thus, Hash-m indeed altered her statement when He related to Avraham that she wondered how she could have children since she was old.
(b) RASHI (to Bereishis 18:12) and other Rishonim, however, explain that Sarah indeed wondered how she could return to her youth after she had aged. The MAHARSHA explains that Hash-m clearly intended to quote the second part of Sarah's statement that "my husband is old" ("Adoni Zaken"). Hash-m used a parallel phrase ("Ani Zakanti") and not the phrase "Belosi" ("I have withered") which Sarah used when she referred to herself. Accordingly, He indeed altered her statement.
(c) The RAMBAN there explains that when the Gemara says that Hash-m changed what Sarah said, it means that instead of informing Avraham of both parts of her statement, He told him only one part (that she said that she was old). This is also the explanation given by the CHAFETZ CHAIM (Hilchos Rechilus, Be'er Mayim Chaim 1:14), who adds that although Hash-m merely omitted part of Sarah's statement and did not actually alter it, one is permitted even to misquote and change a statement for the sake of peace, as the Gemara earlier derives from the words of Yosef's brothers.
This distinction may resolve a number of difficulties. Rebbi Ila'i maintains that one is permitted to alter the truth for the sake of peace, as he proves from the words of Yosef's brothers. Rebbi Nasan, however, argues and maintains that it is a Mitzvah to alter the truth for the sake of peace, as he proves from the words of Shmuel. What is the basis of their argument? Why does Rebbi Ila'i not accept the proof of Rebbi Nasan?
Moreover, the ARUCH LA'NER asks how can the Torah encourage lying? That the Torah might permit lying under certain extenuating circumstances is understandable, but how can the Torah give a Mitzvah to lie? The Torah itself commands a person to distance himself from lying ("mi'Devar Sheker Tirchak," Shemos 23:7).
Finally, the OR HA'CHAIM asks how can the Gemara say that Hash-m, Whose essence is "Emes," truth (Shabbos 55a), would alter the truth?
The answer might be that there are two different forms of altering the truth for the sake of peace. The first form is an outright lie. Altering the truth for the sake of peace in this manner is only permitted; there is no obligation or Mitzvah to do so. The words of the Yosef's brothers are an example of this form of altering the truth for the sake of peace. It is not a Mitzvah because the Torah clearly commands that one may not lie. Hash-m never alters the truth in such a way, even for the sake of peace.
The second form of altering the truth is making an ambiguous statement which is open for misinterpretation. When Hash-m quoted Sarah, and when He told Shmuel what to say to Shaul, He did not say an untruth. Rather, He said a true statement but left it open for misinterpretation. When He spoke to Avraham, He merely omitted part of Sarah's statement. When He spoke to Shmuel, He did not tell him to lie because Shmuel really did go to offer a Korban. This manner of altering the truth for the sake of peace is what the Gemara calls a Mitzvah. (SALMAS CHAIM #485 and TAZ in DIVREI DAVID, Bereishis 18:15)
(d) Others, including the ARUCH LA'NER here and the ANAF YOSEF in Bava Metzia (23b), explain that the Gemara says only that one is "Mutar l'Shanos" ("permitted to change") for the sake of peace; it does not say that one is "Mutar l'Shaker" ("permitted to lie"). They point out that when Hash-m quoted Sarah, He did not say an actual lie, and when the brothers of Yosef quoted their father's words, they also did not lie. The Aruch la'Ner explains that the brothers did not say to Yosef openly that their father told them to tell Yosef to forgive them. Rather, they told him (via messengers) what their father had said before his death (matters unrelated to their sin against Yosef), and then they told the messengers on their own accord to ask Yosef for forgiveness. Their words, "Your father commanded, saying" ("Avicha Tzivah Leimor"), comprised the conclusion of their father's words; they related Yakov's final words, will, and testament. The brothers then told the messengers, "So shall you say to Yosef...." They did not tell their messengers to say that their father had given this command, but rather they said it in a way that would mislead the messengers into thinking that it was their father who said it.
However, SEFER DIVREI SHALOM (4:38) rejects this explanation based on the Gemara in Beitzah (20a), which relates that Hillel once brought a male animal to the Beis ha'Mikdash on Yom Tov to be offered as a Korban Olah, contrary to the opinion of Beis Shamai that an Olah may not be offered on Yom Tov. When students of Shamai confronted Hillel, he told them that the animal was female and that he had brought it to be offered as a Korban Shelamim. Rashi explains that Hillel altered the truth, in his great humility, for the sake of peace. It is clear from the Gemara there that one is permitted to say even an outright lie for the sake of peace.
2) WHEN IS LYING FOR PEACE PROHIBITED?
QUESTION: Rebbi Ila'i teaches that one is permitted to alter the truth for the sake of peace. Rebbi Nasan adds that not only is one permitted to alter the truth for the sake of peace, but it is a Mitzvah to do so.
The Gemara earlier (63a) relates that when Rav would send a request to his wife via his son Chiya, Chiya would reverse Rav's requests because he knew that his mother would do the opposite of whatever Rav requested. When Rav found out about this he told his son not to reverse his requests because it is improper to train oneself to lie. Why did Rav stop him if the Gemara here says that one is permitted to lie in order to maintain peace?
(a) The ME'IRI answers that in the case of Rav, the peace of the home was not at stake. Rav never became angry when his wife did not fulfill his requests, and he was entirely forgiving. Therefore, it was not necessary for his son to lie for the sake of peace.
(b) The SEFER CHASIDIM (#426) writes that when the Chachamim permitted one to lie, they did so only when the lie is necessary to correct a situation which has already arisen and which may lead to strife. One may alter the truth in order to avoid the quarrel. One who lies in such a situation (with pure intent) is like one who rectifies a problematic situation which has arisen already, and thus he is permitted to lie. In contrast, to lie about something that will happen only in the future (such as what a person will or should do) is prohibited.
RAV REUVEN MARGOLIYOS (in "Mekor Chesed," his footnotes to the Sefer Chasidim) cites the DIVREI SHAUL to Yevamos and the MAHARI ASAD (YD 316) who explain the logic behind this distinction. When the situation of discord has already arisen, one may lie because the positive outcome of his lie does not encourage him to lie again in the future. Since he is lying only to correct a situation that has already arisen, he will lie again only if such a situation arises again. He will not assume that he is permitted to lie all the time. In contrast, if a person would be permitted to lie about a future event, to prevent a situation of discord that has not yet arisen, he may fall into the habit of lying about what will happen in the future since he can always find excuses to lie about his plans "to avoid strife."
The YAM SHEL SHLOMO here proposes a similar distinction to explain why Rav told his son not to lie. In each case cited by the Gemara, the situation of potential discord already existed. In the case of Rav's wife, however, his wife had not yet mishandled his present request. His son spoke falsely in order to prevent strife between his mother and father -- when the situation for that potential strife had not yet arisen. Lying under such circumstances is not permitted.