What is the Reason? Lying to Look Good
In a recent Music of Halacha, you described the issue of a husband lying to his wife. I recall hearing of a midrash in which King Solomon lost an argument with a bird about this very issue. Is there such a midrash? Can we derive Halacha from it? C. H.
There definitely is such a Midrash: “When King Solomon completed the construction of the Holy Temple, two birds were standing on its roof, and the king overheard one saying to the other, ‘ Do you see this grand building? I could destroy it with a simple action!’ The king summoned the bird and asked him, ‘How is such a thing possible?’ The bird responded, ‘What’s it to you? I’m allowed to make myself look good to my wife!’”
The Sefer Bat Ayin (Likkutim) explains that the bird speaking represents the Evil Inclination: Satan insists that it is possible for him to destroy the entire building so that the Divine Presence will not rest in it, and all of the effort to build it would be for naught.
The king responds to Satan and says, “Is it possible that after I have chased you away through repentance and good deeds and great effort that you still glorify yourself with such a claim?”
Satan responds, “I can certainly not seduce you with simple physical pleasures. However, there are more subtle ways to lead you into sin; such as leading you to sing your praises to your wife that you were able to build the Temple. That single drop of arrogance will bring down the entire structure, so that the Divine Presence will not be able to rest in it, as the verse says, ‘For thus said the Exalted and Uplifted One, Who abides forever and Whose Name is holy: I abide in exaltedness and holiness, but I am with the despondent and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lonely and to revive the heart of the despondent’ (Isaiah 57:15).”
It certainly seems that the Bat Ayin would not take the plain reading of the text as halachic permission to lie to a wife just to look good.