The Eighth Matter – Devarim 5:20
You shall not bring against your neighbor a false witness.
This Eighth Matter of the Covenant between Yahuwah and his people has to do with bringing personal eyewitness testimony to a court of judgment. The commandment is that you shall not bring false testimony against your fellow. In order for justice to be served to all of Yisrael, each case must be adjudicated according to the eyewitness testimony. Even in our courts of law, witnesses are made to swear that their testimony will be “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” Such an oath is designed to dissuade the temptation of giving false information to the judges. It does not guarantee, but it promotes and encourages a righteous outcome.
So it is paramount in the kingdom of Elohim that his people give an honest testimony concerning what they have seen or heard when a brother’s actions are called into question. Intentionally bringing false information or lying about what the witness knows or saw can result in the innocent being punished and the guilty being freed from obligations or retribution. And thus it is that one of the great matters in the relationship between Yah and his people is that no one may bring a false testimony against his neighbor.
The Torah gives instructions and guidelines for a situation in which a crime has been committed or someone has been wronged in the community so that the truth may be investigated and discovered and justice may be served. But the eyewitness testimony of a single witness is not sufficient to convict anyone of anything.
One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. (Devarim 19:15)
The reason for this is that people do not always recall accurately everything that they see and hear. In any situation in which there are two or more witnesses, an interview of the witnesses (privately, of course) will turn up some startling apparent contradictions. The witnesses almost always tell the story of what they have witnessed differently. They will each remember or forget different details and usually get something out of order.
As a result, no single testimony by itself is deemed reliable to know the exact truth in detail of what has happened. But in the testimony of two or more witnesses, the truth can usually be discerned. So it is that each case must be decided. An investigation of the charges and the evidence is brought. Witnesses testify and are questioned. And the case is decided by the judges as best they can with the evidence presented.
But what if a witness is proven to by lying? How is this situation to be handled. The Torah has a righteous answer for this:
If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of a crime, the two men involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of Yahuwah before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, then do to him as he intended to do to his brother. You must purge the evil from among you. The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (Devarim 19:16-21)
The beauty and simplicity of this instruction should be obvious. Whatever the false witness intended to be done to the accused is done to the false witness. This, if implemented in our judicial systems, would be a great deterrent to bringing false testimony and of assuring a more righteous judgment.
No wonder the people of Israel should have been proud to have such a righteous Torah to guide them in their affairs. As Mosheh said to Israel,
See, I have taught you decrees and laws as Yahuwah my Elohim commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” (Devarim 4:5-6)
Indeed, those who follow these instructions will be regarded as a wise and understanding people. The instruction to do to the false witness as he intended to do to the accused is a strong example of the great wisdom that the Torah holds.