Derech Eretz

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk

Der Grade Derach:  The Straight Path


  Following the straight path is the advice given to young children by their religious Jewish parents from the time they are very young.  This path is one of honesty, truthfulness, and open expressions.  The child that follows that edict has nothing to hide and nothing to fear.  As the late President Franklin Delano Roosevelt stated:  “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.” There are innumerable examples of the consequences that lies and deceptions can bring.  The child that can be honest will be able to sleep peacefully at night, as can the adult who is honest with himself and his fellow man.  

That does not mean that he or she has to explain his every thought to his friends and acquaintances.  Let us look at the child who has innocently given her infant brother large pieces of apple which the six month old could not swallow.  The child choked and mother fortunately came into the room and discovered the child in this very precarious state.  After rescuing the young infant, she insisted in knowing who was responsible for this near death state.  The well intentioned sister was terrified because Mom threatened to destroy the culprit who had committed that crime. After asking each of the children in the room to take an oath she added that if she found the culprit she would kill him or her.  Rachel swore that she was not the perpetrator.  Many months following this episode were very frightening.  She believed “Haschem” would punish her and something evil would happen to her.  It took many months for the eight year old to tell her parent of what she had done.  Sleepless nights and nightmares were the result of the suppression.

 Adults who hide the truth and follow the devious path to gain advantages can find many problems that they did not anticipate.  We can begin with the simple deed of a woman who slips an object that she did not buy into her pocket in a store .  She wonders who has seen her do this and whether she will be caught and shamed.  Will she be expelled from the grocery store forever?  Will she be incarcerated? Will her name appear in the newspaper?  Will it damage her job? Will her friends not want to have her in their homes lest she steal from them, etc.  Will the male who stole an expensive toy for his son be apprehended when he walks out the door of the toy store?  Will he lose his government job as a security guard and will he be discovered and discharged from his secure position?  What will his fellow employees and erstwhile colleagues think of him?  What kind of a role model will he be for his children?  Will he ever be trusted again?

What about the husband (or wife) who is unfaithful?  Will he be discovered and will a twenty year marriage be dissolved as the result of such a break with love and respectability?  Will he ever regain the affection of his spouse?  The oath of  “until death do us part” has been destroyed.  Can such an individual ever find a binding relationship again, or will he become suspicious of anyone of the opposite sex that might appeal to him and that he would want to have as a partner?  

Trust is a very important concept.  Can any of us believe in a human being who has deceived us?  There is an old foreign expression which tells the whole tale:  “Wer einmal lügt dem glaubt man nicht und wenn er selbst die Wahrheit spricht.”  (Whoever lies once will not be believed, even if he speaks the truth  at another occasion). 

A good name and the straight path gives a person a healthy and peaceful conscience. The proverbial liar has to have a good memory lest he forget the lies he uttered.  The consequences of deceptive acts have consequences which are psychologically and practically very damaging to the person who has stepped over the boundaries of the “Derach Eretz”.


Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the author of several books and articles.

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