One meets a variety of characters throughout one’s lifetime. In this week’s parsha, Toldot, the topic of EMET, truth, is presented. Every time we read this portion, I am reminded of one individual I knew in the jewelry business. He is an energetic fellow who knew how to make a buck, however he would always use this sacred word, EMET, very loosely. Some of the typical expressions he would say are:
” I bought the gem stones at a high price, EMET. I cannot sell you at a lower one; I will lose money!” “Those are the merchandise that my customer is looking for however the price is way too high. EMET. It’s not very competitive.” Or, with a chuckle he would sneer and say “How can you have purchased it at that amount? I can get it from others cheaper, EMET. Do you, seriously, want to make the sale?”
“EMET, I will pay you in 30 days ”
Does this guy sound familiar?
Regarding this fellow, we can apply the old expression: It is always good policy to tell the truth, unless, of course, you are an exceptionally good liar, EMET!!
Interestingly enough, we learn many lessons about the truth from our holy Torah. Here are some points that it would be wise to take notice of:
The Sages say, King Shlomo was the smartest man that ever lived and the most famous incident that everybody always points out is the case with the two prostitutes and the baby:
“16) Now two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. 17)One of them said, “Pardon me, my lord. This woman and I live in the same house, and I had a baby while she was there with me. 18) The third day after my child was born, this woman also had a baby. We were alone; there was no one in the house but the two of us.
19) “During the night this woman’s son died because she lay on him. 20) So she got up in the middle of the night and took my son from my side while I your servant was asleep. She put him by her breast and put her dead son by my breast. 21) The next morning, I got up to nurse my son-and he was dead! But when I looked at him closely in the morning light, I saw that it wasn’t the son I had borne.”
22) The other woman said, “No! The living one is my son; the dead one is yours.”
But the first one insisted, “No! The dead one is yours; the living one is mine.” And so they argued before the king.
23) The king said, “This one says, ‘My son is alive and your son is dead,’ while that one says, ‘No! Your son is dead and mine is alive.'”
24) Then the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So they brought a sword for the king. 25) He then gave an order: “Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other.”
26) The woman whose son was alive was deeply moved out of love for her son and said to the king, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!”
But the other said, “Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!”
27) Then the king gave his ruling: “Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother.”
Perhaps a mother has more mercy for her own child, however……
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz asks “One does not need to be a rocket scientist to figure out who the mother was in the King Shlomo/prostitute case. What was the clue’s that Shlomo saw that gave it away?”
Shlomo was a master in human nature. There is a concept in the Torah, AVEIRA GORERET AVEIRA, one sin leads to more sins. What typically happens, at times, for the most part, is that one follows the first sins with more severe sins.
This woman did not tell the truth and now she is ready to commit murder. Shlomo foresaw that. Rav Chaim rationalized that perhaps the other woman(not the mother) could have had mercy on the child as well. Or perhaps the woman was a good actress and played the sympathy part very well. The fact that the woman agreed to murder the child implicates her; it brings “not telling the truth” to the surface.
The Gemara asks a question on verse 27. Why did Shlomo say “give the baby to the first mother” as the opening to his verdict? Why didn’t he emphatically proclaim right away that “AHH!! SHE IS HIS MOTHER!” instead?
Why didn’t he commit?
In fact the Sages say the last statement “she is the mother” was not Shlomo’s but a heavenly voice proclaiming that indeed she is the mother.
A valuable lesson is learned about the EMET, truth:
Unless you are 100% sure, one cannot state it as fact. Shlomo, with all his wisdom, was perhaps 99% sure. However, he was not there at the scene. Shlomo was very careful about EMET and all its implications because he knows EMET is a rare commodity. One cannot jump to conclusions. If someone is in a position as a judge, he should answer “I believe it’s like this”, but he cannot state it as fact. King Shlomo was careful with the truth, especially since he was a leader. It’s very different today. If you ever inject the truth into politics, you’ll have no politics.
IN THE BEGINNING…..
I know it’s hard remembering childhood but let’s take kids, for instance. Before they learn the art of deception from “seasoned” adults, children simply do not know how to lie. The reason is because they do not live in a contrast universe. For children, everything is perfectly consistent. What you see is what you get. However, once we accept the “fact” that people lie, we become liars ourselves, and then we never turn back.
WHY DO HUMANS LIE?
The most underlying deception throughout the whole of existence is actually G-d deceiving us humans by hiding His presence from us! The rest, as they say, is history. Once matter is disconnected from spirit, and form from function, once we are disconnected from our inner selves, we are living a “lie.” When we do not perceive the force that gives us life, the very purpose of our being, we have the ability to lie to ourselves and to others. When we don’t feel that we are all part of one unit, we are able to hurt ourselves and others.
However there are those that have a natural instinct to gravitate towards truth; they do feel connected to the source; they are gifted. These individual might be spiritual but are they able to function well in society. But, how are they able to live among the deceivers?
IS IT WISE TO BE SO TRUTHFULL?
Sometimes we see so clearly that G-d has a sense of humor. It’s funny. Many of us are faced with frustrating challenges in life. If one observes in this and last week’s parshiot, one can detect that our forefather Yaakov encounters situations that are totally opposite of his character. One can see clearly that it’s not us but G-d that runs the world!
We learn in Tractate Makot (24:71): “The world stands on eleven important principles” and the Gemara derives this from Psalms (16). One of the principles is “he pursues truth”, referring to Yaakov. He was not accustomed to lie and we see that from the words he uttered to his mother, out of fear, “Maybe father will feel me” and realize “I’m not Eisav”. Yaakov was put in a situation that he had to lie and say “I’m Eisav”. Rivka through divine sensory knew that Yaakov was the one that should receive the blessing. His mother coached him on what to say. “Son, don’t mention G-d when you address you father. Eisav doesn’t do that and we have to be convincing”. Well, guess what? Yaakov uttered G-d’s name when he entered his father’s tent, when asked by his father “How were you able to come here from hunting so fast?” Yaakov replied: “Because G-d arranged it for me”. It seems like he couldn’t stick with the script – too honest! We see later, Yaakov, this wet behind the ears, honest-to-goodness, Yeshiva boy becomes the son-in-law to the biggest liar, cheater and swindler that ever lived, not to mention he was constantly being lied to.
Rav Eliyahu Dessler has a beautiful explanation on what EMET really is. We were always led to believe that truth is describing events accurately, while SHEKER, falsehood, is exaggeration of the event. Mind you, that is just a simplistic definition. However, we know that sometimes truth is better not to be revealed. For instance, saying negative things about a friend, even though it’s true may not be the best way to go about things. It has no constructive purpose. That’s Lashon Hara! At times it’s better to alter the truth then to tell it as it is, otherwise people will get hurt. So we see, if the truth will not help, but, on the contrary, hurt, it’s prohibited.
We also see if one lies to help and progress the world, this falsehood eventually turns to EMET. A good example of this is when G-d altered the words of Sarah when addressing Avraham. G-d stated her words to be that “she is too old to bear children” instead of what Sarah actually said which was “My husband is too old”. This was done in order to preserve Shalom Bayit, peace between the husband and wife. We find that altering the truth which eventually brings good is what G-d wants.
Dr. Robert Goldman, Psycologist at Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim says it’s easier to fight a bad characteristic trait then to set limits on a good trait. Two cases in point are our forefather Avraham and King David. Both had the tremendous characteristic of mercy but, nevertheless had difficulty in sufficiently infusing strictness on some of their children. This was particularly true in regards to Avram’s oldest son Yishmael and David’s children Avshalom and Adoniyahu.
Yaakov had to contain his characteristic trait of pursuing truth in order to receive the bracha. This was a very difficult task. The initiation of Yaakov to the world of deception, which was against his nature, apparently helped him later on in life in dealing with his father-in-law, Lavan.
Our daily prayer, EMET, and its significance
In the morning prayers, Shacharit, we say after Shema, Emet V’Yatziv which starts with the word Emet and then 15 consecutive words beginning with the letter Vuv. The word Emet itself is Vuv because G-d’s seal is truth and the letter He seals with is Vuv. As we learned in previous newsletters, the number 15 represents completion. The Pesach Seder has 15 steps and King David’s Psalms has 15 shir hashirim. By having EMET, truth, enwrapped with the 15 words which correspond to completion. One is therefore shalem, complete, once all 15 have been stated. Evidence of this concept of completion can also be found in the word EMET, which has 3 letter; ALEF-the first letter of the alef bet, a TAF-the last letter of the alef bet, and a MEM, in the middle, which is the middle letter of the alef bet. All the letters are symbolic to the whole world which the three letters of EMET come to indicate.
A sinner who was also a robber asked a wise man for advice on how to repent. He felt he could not take on all of the commandments, so he asked the wise man for an easier way. The wise man suggested that he take on one commandment but do it properly. The robber agreed. The wise man said to take upon himself to always tell the truth. After a time, the robber’s resolve weakened, and he set off to rob someone. On the way he met an acquaintance who asked where he was going. Remembering that he took on to always tell the truth, he told him. Then, the same thing happened again. Right away he thought, those two will be witnesses and get me killed! Because of this, he restrained himself and never stole again. (Sanhedrin 92 and the Maharsha)
Truth is complex. We were brought up with a very simplified expression: To tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. However, one has to know when to say it and when to be deceitful for the sake of the truth. When Yaakov met his future wife Rachel, she was puzzled when he drew up a plan to counter attack Lavan, his future father-in-law. He said “when dealing with an untruthful person, one has to be equally deceitful. EMET dictates when to use it.
From the day we lose our innocence, we are desperate to rediscover it. Innocence, childhood, truth, spontaneity, enchantment, seamlessness – these are attributes we adults seek out all our lives. We should continue to seek them, especially truth and innocence, reach for them and work to perfect them so we can complete the EMET of our lives and the world around us.