Another Sort of Addiction
Question: This past Pesach I was a guest at a friends Seder and was the "victim" of the traditional stealing of my afikomen by one of my hosts children. In order to get it back I had to promise the youngster a gift. Am I really obligated to keep this promise or is this a mere ritual?
Answer: Rabbi Zeira (Mesechta Succa 46b) warned that a person should never make a promise of a gift to a child and fail to keep his promise. Doing so, he pointed out, trains the youngster that it is proper to lie.
The same passage from the Prophet Yirmiyahu that he cites as a warning that lying can be addictive was quoted by the Sage Rav (Mesechta Yevamot 63a), when he praised and scolded his son Chiya for lying with good intentions. Rav had a difficult wife who would always prepare a meal for him completely opposite to what he had requested. Chiya served as a go-between and when he grew old enough to realize what was happening he switched the instructions given to him by his father. When Rav arrived home to surprisingly find the meal he really wanted, he asked his son whether his mother had suddenly changed her contrary ways. Upon hearing Chiyas explanation of the switch, Rav complimented him on his cleverness but warned him not to ever lie in that fashion again lest he become addicted to deviating from the truth.
Go ahead and give the child the gift you promised.