Emor 5778

פרשת אמור

Parshas Emor

“Truth” (and consequences)

We are now in the midst of the days of the counting of the Omer. Coincidentally, this special mitzvah is mentioned in this week’s parsha. The pasuk [1] says “וספרתם לכם ממחרת השבת מיום הביאכם את עמר התנופה שבע שבתות תמימות תהיינה – you shall count for yourselves from the morrow of the rest day (the first day of Pesach), from the day when you bring the ‘Omer that is Waved’; seven weeks shall they be complete (Temimos)”.

Chazal [2] derived through an exegesis: When are the weeks of Sefirah considered “whole and complete?” When Bnei Yisroel does the will of Hashem. This needs to be explained. What is meant by “whole and complete,” and why is this dependent upon Yisroel fulfilling the will of Hashem?

The Torah, when describing Yaakov Avinu uses the same terminology, “temimos,” as in [3] – ויעקב איש תם ישב אהלים – “Yaakov was a forthright (tam) man, abiding in his tents.” Temimos has as its Shoresh (root) the word “tam.”

The description that Yaakov was forthright, without artifice and an “ish Tam” also means that he was complete in his Torah [4] which is also referred to as “emes” [5] “אמת קנה ואל תמכר – Acquire ‘Truth’ [i.e. Torah] ; never dispose of it.” Yaakov Avinu is our forefather who personifies the attribute of emes – truth as the pasuk says [6] “תתן אמת ליעקב – Grant truth to Yaakov.”

The Gemarah [7] also renders the pasuk [8] “ודבר אמת בלבבו, לא רגל על לשנו – he speaks the truth from his heart; [and] has no slander on his tongue” as referring to the patriarch Yaakov. The Talmud quotes Yaakov saying: [9]“אולי ימשני אבי והייתי בעיניו כמתעתע – My father might lay his hand on me and I will appear in his eyes as an imposter.” Yaakov’s deep concern lest he would seem less than truthful, demonstrates his absolute abhorrence of duplicity.

This depiction of Yaakov as the paragon of integrity is seemingly at odds with other narratives which describe episodes where Yaakov appears to be somewhat less than candid. We read of Eisav’s lament regarding Yaakov [10] “ויעקבני זה פעמים – he (Yaakov) outwitted me twice.” It does seem as if Yaakov was the least of the Avos to epitomize the character trait of emes. Secondly, the Gemarah’s use of this particular episode – Yaakov’s initial reluctance to participate in the deception as suggested by his mother Rivkah – as proof of Yaakov’s candor is even more challenging. The Gemarah’s point would have been better served had it used as proof of Yaakov’s honesty the dialog he had with Lavan [11] when Yaakov contended with Lavan that he (Yaakov) worked for Lavan for twenty years and never cheated him once in all that time. “I put in an honest day’s work – הייתי ביום אכלני חרב וקרח בלילה ותדר שנתי מעני – I worked in the night; I worked in the day; I worked in the heat; I worked in the cold.” This would seem to be a more convincing illustration of Yaakov’s uprightness.

I believe that if we understand how Yaakov’s behavior epitomizes the Midah of Emes, we will gain insight into the Medrash cited above. That is, when the Bnei Yisroel behave in accordance with Hashem’s will, the rite of counting the seven weeks from the Omer shall be considered wholesome and complete.

How does one define &lquo;Emes” (Truth)? Of course on a literal level the truth, as it is simply understood, is that one is required to always present all facts with which one is personally acquainted and to refrain from making any statement that one knows is not perfectly congruent with all the facts as one understands them. However, it is self evident that this simple understanding of &lquo;truth” has a fundamental weakness. This weakness is man’s own perception, determined by his own intellect which decides the accuracy of the truth even in regard to things he sees before his very own eyes, i.e., it is subjective and relative.

For the most part, it is difficult to arrive at an objective truth. It is almost impossible for a human to discern the truth wholly on his own accord. For example, one is not able to assess the truth unless he compares it to something similar. Shlomo Hamelech says [12], “כל דרך איש ישר בעיניו – A man’s every way is upright in his eyes.” This means that a man’s eyes – his own perception – create the standard for determining the truth. He creates the truth based on his own discernment. For example in the Confederate States of America, human bondage was referred to as their “peculiar institution,” while in the Northern States slavery was viewed with abject horror. Nowadays, in western society it is universally condemned as the most cruel behavior imaginable. So, which is the correct, truthful version of morality – the standard of the South one hundred fifty years ago, or the standards of today? Moreover, western society has not yet begun to consistently apply their own standards, for those states in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Africa which persist in engaging in human trafficking have yet to be sanctioned by the West. On the contrary, they are the recipients of the largesse of the United States and its allies. Does one hear the shouts of moral outrage in the hallowed halls of the United Nations? Of course not, except for the bogus condemnation of fabricated stories of Israel’s violations of human rights, one is deafened by the sound of silence resounding throughout that revered edifice.

Another example is where today it is generally illegal to discriminate or protest against behaviors which were illegal and considered most deviant a mere fifty years ago!

To paraphrase Cicero “sic tempora, sic mores,” – as are the times, so go the customs. Societal norms are arbitrary and are neither reliable predictors nor definers of truth or morality. &lquo;Truth” must be eternal and immutable in order to qualify as such.

Therefore we are compelled to say that there is a more profound characterization of truth. Truth must be objective and consistently applicable. In truth (pun intended) the distinction between a relative perception and objective perception is emphasized more in the area of the spirit than it is in the physical dimension. In the spiritual dimension there is a precise, objective and decisive factor rooted in the Torah. In the physical realm, we establish the truth through determining whether something “is” or “is not,” that it “happened” or it “did not happen.” This is objectivity with regard to truth and, on the surface, seems to apply to the spiritual as well. However, this hypothesis is flawed. When we describe an event that has occurred, what we are actually describing may be defined as “not false,” but it does not necessarily mean that it is “emes.” Truth goes beyond that which is “not false.” Truth is not expressed only in the fact that something took place. It is expressed in the source of something justified by its creation. Truth is similar to two rails, the straightness of the rails upon which a train travels is determined by its sister rail. Both rails must actually be parallel to another, regardless of whether an optical illusion causes one to see them as parallel when they really are not. They must be complete in their symmetry, or the train will not be able to travel over them.

Hashem created the universe in accordance with His Divine plan. To understand this plan is beyond human comprehension. We only know that all events that occur throughout history happen for the fulfillment of Hashem’s plan. Hashem’s plan is the sole universal, objective truth. In order that we act as participants in Creation, we follow the laws as prescribed in His Torah. Spiritual accuracy as determined and revealed to us by the Torah is analogous to the parallel rails – where each rail is in synch with the other. What we “see” as objective is based on just that – what we see. The Torah, on the other hand, describes what is “true” and that is what we must follow. Thus, truth goes to the source which is determined by the Torah, the criterion for true reality in the life of a Jew.

Now let us reevaluate Yaakov’s seeming untruths. Yaakov was compelled to extract the blessings from Yitzchok in a manner apparently tainted with deception. We have no idea why Hashem wanted it to occur in such a manner but once Rivkah revealed to Yaakov that the blessings were heavenly destined for him [13], the emes – truth – was established that the blessings were to go to Yaakov under such questionable circumstances. This became the emes. Emes is not necessarily a mirror image of what is in front of us. It is not even what appears to be reality. Emes is that which fulfills Hashem’s Divine Will.

Nonetheless, even in the physical realm Yaakov was careful with his words, fine-combing them, as elucidated by the Rabbis and explained as not constituting an outright lie. Eisav did want to sell his firstborn rite, and since he did, Yaakov was actually entitled to the firstborn bracha. And thus his mother told him to dress up and pretend to be Eisav.

For Eisav to have received the blessings would have been sheker (false). The blessings belonged to Yaakov and the manner devised by Rivkah to bring them out is the paragon of truth. Not only is the taking of the blessings not a contradiction of the truth, on the contrary, taking them in that specific manner was the highest form of emes. This is the meaning of “titein emes l’Yaakov” (give truth to Yaakov). Specifically, a situation which appeared tainted served as the greatest expression of the truth.

It has been suggested that Yaakov had to resort to subterfuge when receiving the blessings that Yitzchak meant for Eisav. Eisav had always been the deceptive one. He was the pretender to piety and reverence before his father to the extent that Issac believed in Eisav’s righteousness and integrity. It is in accordance with Hashem’s perfect justice that Eisav receives his comeuppance in likewise fashion. Eisav the imposter becomes the victim to fraud.

In a similar fashion, we find that Hashem commands Moshe to compel Bnei Yisroel to “borrow” finery from the Egyptians immediately before the Exodus, and the Egyptians eagerly complied with this request. The Bnei Yisroel were reluctant to participate in this charade because they didn’t understand the need for deception. At this point the Egyptians were completely submissive to the Bnei Yisroel and would have acquiesced to their every demand no matter how unreasonable. Why then did they need to go through the pretense of “borrowing,” when they all knew that these goods are never to be returned to the Egyptians?

But this too is a manifestation of Hashem’s perfect justice. For Egypt initially lured Bnei Yisroel into bondage with insincere promises of vast lucre. Bnei Yisroel were completely taken in by these false promises, and thereby made to suffer for their own gullibility. Now the tables were turned on the Egyptians and as retribution, they were also lulled into thinking they had given away their fortune willingly and that they had been victimized by a scheme similar to what they had perpetrated upon Yisroel. It is irony worthy of O. Henry, and l’havdil, a manifestation of the way Hashem dispenses perfect justice.[14]

Let us further elaborate on the point that ultimately, that which is ordained by the Torah is the only truth. The Gemarah[15] says “כל דיין שדן דין אמת לאמיתו כאילו נעשה שותף להקב”ה במעשה בראשית – any judge who judges a case according to its truth is as if he became a partner with Hashem in the creation of the world.” Why should giving a correct verdict render a judge a partner in Creation? The answer to this is that Torah is the blueprint of the world [16]; the world was created as a manifestation of the Torah. Therefore when a judge uses the rules according to the Torah to reach a verdict, he has brought the Torah into expression in this world. In other words, this judge has continued the task that Hashem began in Creation, that the world be an extraction of the Torah.

We see from this source that the most accurate definition of truth is that which expresses the Torah in this world. The judge in question might not have reached the “true” verdict based on what “factually” happened in the case, but as long as he has used the Torah’s rules to reach his verdict, and the Torah prescribes such a verdict, he has reached his verdict based on what “should have happened.” This is the ultimate truth – the expression of the Torah in this world. The Torah is truth and it dictates the objective truth. As stated earlie,r Torah is called emes. The Torah, its truth and its morality are beyond time and place.

Taking all of this into account, Yaakov is synonymous with truth because he actually personified the fact that the real definition of truth is the Torah and all his actions in this world were in accordance with the Torah. It is also for this very reason that the Gemarah, when expounding on the pasuk “he who speaks truth from his heart etc.” brings the account of Yaakov’s taking the blessings from Esav. This was what actually defined truth to the ultimate.

Now we can return to the Medrash we began with: “When are the weeks of Sefirah whole and complete? When Bnei Yisroel does the will of Hashem.” The Medrash wishes to impart upon us this very point. What is completeness – truth? Bnei Yisroel’s doing the will of Hashem, acting in the way the Torah commands, this is the essence of truth.

It is very fitting that this Medrash is derived from the pasuk regarding Sefiras Ha’omer. The Sefirah is a preparation to the Yom Tov of Shavuos – the day we received the Torah. We should be extra scrupulous in preparing ourselves to accept the Torah as the sole and ultimate Truth. The weeks of the counting of the Omer are true and complete when the purpose of the count is to fulfill the Word of Hashem.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Dovid Sochet

[1] Vaikra / Leviticus 23:15
[2] Vayikra Rabbah 28:3
[3] Bereishes / Genesis 25:27
[4] See Bereishes Rabbah 63:10
[5] See Mishlei / Proverbs 23:23
[6] Michah 7:20
[7] Tractate Makkos 24A
[8] Tehillim /Psalms 15:2-3
[9] Bereishes / Genesis 27:12
[10] Bereishes / Genesis 27:36
[11] Bereishes / Genesis 31:37-42
[12] Misheli / Proverbs 21:2
[13] See Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh (Rabbi Chaim Ben Atar 1696-1743) Bereishes 27:5
[14] See Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh Shemos 3:18
[15] Tractate Shabbos 10A
[16] See Zohar Teruma 161A