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22 Kislev 5760 - December 1, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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"Middas Yaakov Emes": Searching for Truth
by Rabbi Mordechai Miller

Chanukah is a time in which our ancestors had to find truth in the darkness of a Greek culture that was out to smother them. In this talk, Rabbi Miller of Gateshead tells us how to search for -- and find -- truth, wherever we are. The following is an edited version of remarks recorded on tape.

Concerning the attribute of truth in Yaakov Ovinu, there is a passage in the Midrashic literature, Tanna Devei Eliyahu, which says the following. At the end of Bereishis we read, "Vayechi Yaakov be'eretz Mitzrayim sheva esrei shonoh," Yaakov Ovinu lived in Mitzrayim for seventeen years. The Midrash says that these seventeen years, which he lived in the land of Mitzrayim, were the main years of his life. In these seventeen years, he had no grief-- shelo betza'ar. During these seventeen years, he was not troubled by his yetzer hora, and he lived mei'ein Olam Haba, a life in Mitzrayim, in Egypt, which resembled the life of the World to Come.

The difficulty in this Midrash is that there is a passage in the gemora (Bava Basra), which says that all three of our Patriarchs had the taste of the World to Come during their lives in this world. Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov -- each used the word "kol," meaning "everything." Avrohom was blessed bakol, with everything. The word "mikol" was used by Yitzchok. And Yaakov said, "Yesh li kol--I have everything." From their use of the word "kol" the gemora says that all three lived a life shelo betza'ar, belo yetzer hora, mei'ein Olam Haboh -- that these three people lived a life in this world similar to the life in the World to Come.

How does one see this in their use of the word "kol"? A life of "kol" is not the sort of life that people normally have in this world. No one has everything here. However, in the World to Come, you do have everything. So in the word "kol" lies the idea of mei'ein Olam Haboh, having a life in this world similar to that in the World to Come.

Yaakov Ovinu used the word "kol" right after his encounter with Eisov. This was when he came back to Eretz Yisroel after being with Lovon. When he came back to Eretz Yisroel, he met Eisov, had a fight with the mal'ach of Eisov, and was successful. It says, "Vayovo Yaakov sholeim -- Yaakov came out of it perfect." All this took place more than thirty years before he went to Mitzrayim. Therefore, how can the Tanna Devei Eliyahu tell us that the seventeen years in Mitzrayim were the main years of his life, because only then did he have the taste of Olam Haboh, when the gemora tells us exactly the same thing about Yaakov Ovinu more than thirty years earlier? Why do we accentuate just these last seventeen years? That's one problem that we'll have to answer.

With What do we Search for Truth?

Now let's go to the subject matter itself, in searching for the midda of Yaakov Ovinu, the midda of truth. Every person who is sincere looks for truth. Everyone has problems in his or her life, and the difficulty becomes finding the true way. When I'm faced with a life problem, how should I decide it? I want the truth. If you're sincere, you want the truth.

Which instrument do you use to find truth? Can you use your hands or your feet? The answer is you use your seichel, your intelligence. The only part of your body you can use for finding truth is your intelligence. So your intelligence is your guide to the truth.

Now then, if you're going to search for truth with your intelligence, the first thing to find out is, how reliable is your intelligence to find truth? When you want to measure anything to find the true answer, or you want to weigh something to find the exact measurement, then your measuring machine must be accurate before you start measuring. First, see how accurate your machine is.

The first rule is that you don't think at all about something unless you have an interest in it. There is no thought without interest. By way of illustration, if you present a number of people with a newspaper, and you ask one person: Tell me, what was in the news today? One person will tell you about the political scene; another about the sports; and another person will tell you about the stock exchange. If you say to the man who talked about politics: By the way, did you notice what happened on the stock exchange? He might say, No, I didn't notice it.

If it's not your interest, you just don't think about it. So whoever thinks is interested.

Now, HaRav Eliyahu Dessler, zt'l, was my teacher and almost everything I say I got from him. I cannot separate what's not his and what is his, because I was formed so much by him that almost everything I say is from him.

A Key Distinction: Life Problems and Technical Problems

He said, you must, in matters like this, differentiate between two kinds of problems: life problems and technical problems.

Let me give you one example to show you the difference. There's a young man, who's been learning in yeshivos and later in kollel. He got his semichah. He became a rav. He's offered a position in a very nice seaside town. It's very pleasant to live there, and he will get a decent wage if he goes there.

He's got to take his family there to live, of course. So he has problems. How will his children be educated? What schools will they go to? Will he have people to talk to on his level? There are so many problems attached to his one problem -- should I take this position in life or not? He has a life problem.

So he may say: I can't decide now. I must go and see the place first. So he plans to go on Thursday afternoon to this town, to see what's going on there. He picks up a train timetable to look for the fastest train to this town. When he looks at the timetable, he has a technical problem. What is the fastest train? is a technical problem. Whether he should take the position or not -- that's a life problem.

Another example: Two brothers were left property by their wealthy father. He had many interests, and he left equal shares of all of it to his two sons. One brother said to the other, "Look here, it's difficult to divide this estate between ourselves. What I'd like to do with you is as follows. You divide the estate into two equal halves, and then I will choose which half I like."

The brother who is going to make the division into two equal halves has a technical problem. He wants the two halves to be exact, because if they're not, he's going to be the loser. On the other hand, the one who chooses has got a life problem: If he chooses this half, how will it fit in with his life? There may be properties located far away from where he lives. Therefore, in his situation, it might be better to take this half rather than that one. The problems which affect him are problems of life.

The first one only needs to make an exact division. Since he does not control which one he will get, he cannot evaluate the halves with respect to his life. The second one has to know which half suits him (assuming the two are equal). The first one is technical; the second one is a life problem.

In a technical problem, you have only one interest: to find the correct answer. You don't care what the answer is as long as it is correct. Your whole interest is to find the correct answer.

In a life problem, you have many interests which come into play. You typically have many interests which are intermingled when you have a life problem.

This division is very important, because the action of our intellect is -- and should be -- very different towards each of the two types of problems.

Bias in Life Problems

Let us first deal with the life problems. This is a quotation from the gemora in Kesuvos: "Omar Rovo, Rovo said, Mai taimoh deshuchado? What is the reason that it is not permitted for a judge to take a bribe?"

Everyone understands that it is wrong for a judge to take a bribe in order to decide in favor of the man who gives him the bribe and we are not talking about that. There's a clear posuk in the Torah, "Lo sateh mishpat," you're not allowed to incline judgment. That is obviously wrong.

What we're talking about is that somebody comes along and says to the judge of a case, "I do not want this gift to affect your decision at all. If I'm wrong, say I'm wrong. But just accept a small gift of a thousand British pounds." That is what the gemora is talking about, as Rashi says: "Lomoh ossur littol lezakos es hazakai -- why may he not take the bribe in order to give the correct judgment?"

This judge is given a bribe to say that the man who is right, is right and that the man who is wrong, is wrong. Why can't he take such a bribe? Answers the gemora: "Keivon dekobil lei shuchedo minei, once the judge has accepted the bribe from one party, ikruvei lei da'ato legabei, his mind is nearer to that person." The giving of the gift has made a certain attachment to the person who gave the present. "Vehaveh kegufei, and he becomes like himself. Ve'einov ein ro'eh chovah le'atzmo, and he will not see any argument which goes against his own interests."

If an argument goes against your interests, you will not accept it, and when this man gives you a gift, he becomes like you. You get an attachment to him because of the gift. And therefore, once you've accepted the gift you will no longer see fair and square. You'll only see the arguments in favor of the man who gave you the gift.

That's why a judge may not accept a gift. When he accepts the gift, he becomes an interested party.

When you are an interested party evaluating some problem, you've taken shochad, you've taken bribes. "Ki hashochad ye'aveir einei chachomim, the bribes blind the eyes of the wise." A bribe blinds your eyes and you can't see the truth. It does not mean that the person who is blinded doesn't want to see; it means he cannot see. Once you are bribed, you can't see, however much you want to. If a judge takes a gift and says that he still wants to give the true decision in the case before him, it is out of the question for him to do so because he's taken a bribe.

Every interested party has taken a bribe. Your bribes in the questions that you deal with are your own interests. If I'm biased in a case, what's the use of my intelligence? How can I use my intelligence if I'm bribed?

You can be bribed by all sorts of things. And in any life problem, you've got any number of interests that bribe you. So you come to the problem as a bribed judge.

The Slightest Bias is Blinding

The matter goes even further than this.

All that I'm telling you now is actually in Rav Dessler's sefer, Michtav MeEliyahu and I was once teaching it to a class of young men at the Gateshead Kollel. We were learning the text of the sefer, and I could not read one thing and leave out another. I would dearly have loved to leave out the next part because I had, amongst the audience, one young man who was at that very time doing examinations as a chemist. (He is a chemist now.) I didn't want to put the following case forward, but I couldn't help myself because we were learning from the sefer.

Rav Dessler said: Suppose there is a scientist and he has to make experiments to find out the true answer to his problem. While he's making his experiments and collecting the data, he gets a hunch: "I think this is going to be the answer." Is that man free, or has he taken a bribe? Is he bribed to the hunch he got or would you say, no, his mind is completely free; if other data comes up, he'll just discard it and think of something else?

Rav Dessler brought this example because this is a halacha in the Talmud, and even in the Chumash: "Shemo'a bein acheichem ushefatetem tzedek (Devorim 1,16)." The judge must only listen to the case when both parties are present. He is not allowed to hear one side before he's heard the other or even not in the presence of the other. The other side must be present in order to object if something is said which he maintains is incorrect. Why? "Azhoroh lebeis din shelo yishma divrei baal din -- the court may not listen to the words of one litigant -- kodem sheyovo baal din chaveiro -- until the other litigant is present -- ve'azhoroh lebaal din shelo yat'in devorov ledayan -- and the litigant is warned not to speak to the dayan -- kodem sheyovo baal din chaveiro -- until the opposing litigant and adversary, is present.

Why not? Because the judge will be colored by what he hears first, even though he knows that he has not heard the other side yet. Once he hears the first man and it seems to him that the man put his case very sympathetically -- he may be a very good speaker and captures the imagination of the judge regarding his suffering -- then the judge really feels for him. Then, when the other fellow comes along, the judge already has a picture of what the first man said, so he will not listen to the second man the same way he listened to the first man.

That is why the judge is not permitted to listen to one side before the other is present. This is even though the judge certainly knows that he cannot give a verdict yet since he has only heard one side of the question. But he mustn't hear one side before he's heard the other.

Blinded by His Own Hunch

From that halacha Rav Dessler said that we see that once a man gets a hunch that something is the answer, he's made up his mind straightaway that it is the answer. Although he hasn't got all of the data yet, he's not going to throw over that idea when more data comes in. As I said, I was worried about saying it because I thought any scientist would protest, "No! Even if I have a hunch, I'm quite free to decide."

I was looking at this chemist, and he said, "Do you know what happened to me yesterday?" It was min haShomayim. What happened? He had some powders put in front of him and he had to identify them by making tests. It could be this or that -- I don't know the technicalities. But there were various tests he had to make. One was applying certain acids to see what happened to the color. Another would be the smell it would give out when something was added, and so on. He said that even before he started any tests, he looked at the powder, and he said, "I think it could be A or B. I think it's going to be B."

So he made the first test. It wasn't quite what it should have been had it been B. But he said, "It's not quite. I'll try the second test."

He tried the second test; it also wasn't quite what he expected. "I'll try the third test."

The third test was exactly the same. But he said, "I suppose it's near enough," and he wrote down B. Of course, it was really A.

He said that he'd just been through this. He'd had a hunch, and this put him off completely. Had he not had the hunch, he'd have said straightaway that the result is wrong. It's not the result he would have expected. But because he'd had the hunch, he later realized himself that he'd made up his mind before making the tests, and the tests did not change his idea.

This is an example of how slight a bribe can be before your intelligence ceases to work properly, until you become blind. In life we have many, many things which we feel very deeply about, and when we've got to find a way of truth, there will be many interests that will interfere. And how will we see clearly to find truth? Where will we find truth? If we can't use our intellect, our scales are useless. We can't use our heads and we can't use our feet, so the real question now is: how does one find truth?

One Solution: Get Rid of your Interests

Recall the distinction between a technical problem and a life problem: A technical problem is one where your only goal is to find the truth. For those, the perfect advice is what Chazal say, "Batel retzoncho mipnei retzono." If you have your own will or desire, and you find that it's not in accordance with the will of the Almighty, then you should nullify your will in favor of His will. That's lovely -- if you've got an interest, be mevatel the interest.

I call this a counsel of perfection. To annul or ignore an interest is something which is very, very difficult. If I'm interested, I'm interested. A person says, "I'm interested in food." Well, you can't so easily tell him, "Don't be interested." And you can't tell him to nullify it.

You might tell him that he can train himself in controlling that habit, but that takes years and years. HaRav Simcha Zissel Ziv, one of the great mussar masters that we had, said he tried to improve one particular thing and it took him twenty-five years of work. That was just to improve one of his retzonos that he had that he thought was not entirely in line with the will of the Creator.

If you can go through the whole lot of your various desires and interests and be mevatel them all and only want one thing at the end, then it will be of some use. But you're going to have a lot of life problems that are left after twenty-five years, even if you are successful. It's only a counsel of perfection to us. It's not practical for our generation. It's something to work towards, but it is not the answer to your more immediate problem.

Make a Rav

What else is there? The second eitzah, to come to truth is "Asei lecho rav." Make yourself a master, to whom you will ask your questions -- because what is your life problem is just his technical problem.

For example, there's a fellow who loves playing chess. He is a chess addict, who cannot get enough chess. He wants to know whether he can play chess on Shabbos. So he goes to the rav, and asks, "May one play chess on Shabbos?"

When his rav looks into Shulchan Oruch to find out whether he can or cannot, the rav has only a technical problem. He has no personal attachment to the game of chess and no interest in the matter. His goal is only to find out the halacha. But for the man who wants to play chess, it's a life problem. He's interested. He cares very much what the answer is.

The rav just wants to find out the right answer. The man who wants to play chess, wants a particular answer.

So, one way to convert your life problems into technical problems is by putting them in front of a rav. And if you have a rav whom you can rely upon to tell you daas Torah (What does Torah want from you? What is the true way?) then he can tell you what to do, and your life problem has become a technical problem. That would appear to be a very sound way of dealing with the matter and finding the true way, and sometimes it works well.

Difficulties in Making a Rav

But in fact, other times and for some people, it has its difficulties. The first of them is this: Whom are you going to take as a rav? That is to say, when you take a rav you have to make up your mind that if he tells you to do it or not to do it, then you do what he says. I know that I am wary of doing a thing like that. Who knows what he's going to tell me? So I'm not going to make a rav; I'll decide myself what to do. Now and again, I might ask a rav something, but I do not know if I have someone that I trust so that I can put my life in his hands. Some people have rabbonim like that, but not everyone.

So where do you find a person that you can trust to be your rav, of whom you can, "Asei lecho rav," you make him into your rav that will tell you what to do? Someone so that when you have a life problem, you bring it to him and he'll tell me what to do?

That's one difficulty. And let us say that you overcome it. Maybe you will overcome it because sometimes people get into situations in life where they only wish they had someone to tell them what they ought to do. It's happened to me many times that I thought I would give away thousands if I had my rav near me to tell me what to do next.

But let us suppose you find a rav. This person is your rav. You will then start to be selective in what you ask him. Maybe you will ask him one thing but not another. Then, of course, you have again made yourself your own rav.

There was a case of a chassidishe boy in yeshiva. He was learning very well and he loved learning, but he hadn't done his examinations yet. So his father, who was a chassidishe Yid, a real chossid who used to go to his Rebbe in America every yom tov, said, "You've got to stop learning now and concentrate on doing your examinations." So the boy wondered, "I don't want to stop learning now. I love learning. I love learning gemora. But my father wants me to stop and do my examinations. What should I do?" And he came to me and asked me what to do. I told him, "Your father has a Rebbe, and every yom tov he goes to the Rebbe. Let him go ask the Rebbe what he should do. He's got a boy who wants to learn, and he wants him to stop learning and do his examinations." The boy answered immediately, "What? My father would never ask the Rebbe a question like that. That he doesn't ask the Rebbe. That he decides himself."

So even if he's got a Rebbe, and he goes to him every yom tov, really he has no Rebbe. He thinks he has, but he hasn't. He doesn't even put many questions to him. Things he wants to decide himself, he decides himself.

When Rabbi Dessler had left to Eretz Yisroel -- he was the mashgiach in Ponevezh in his last years, and he only came to Gateshead once every six months -- there was a young man who could learn well, but he had a problem. So he made an appointment to see Rabbi Dessler when he came. Rabbi Dessler used to stay in our house, and I went into one room and Rabbi Dessler and this young man went into another room. They were there for an hour and when they came out Rabbi Dessler said to me, "Do you know the problem?"

I said, "How can I know the problem? I was in a different room. I don't know the problem."

Rabbi Dessler replied, "Well, neither do I."

Apparently, what happened was that the young man had originally made up his mind to ask this problem, and he definitely came with the intention of asking. But when it came down to it, he started beating around the bush and he spoke about one thing and another thing and another, and he didn't even put the problem to Rabbi Dessler that he should have.

Another thing that happens is that even when you put the problem to the rav, you sometimes don't put it fair and square. You may put the problem in a light where the answer is presupposed in the way you present the problem.

I once had a similar experience. I had just started working in Gateshead and somebody offered me what I considered a prestigious position in London, one of the best positions I could have then imagined. It was definitely a life problem for me. I went to Rav Dessler and I told him that if I take this position, I can do so much for Anglo Jewry. I felt I could do this and that and have such an impact on people. Rabbi Dessler went through all my arguments, one after the other, and said, "This won't work and that won't work. The only thing that I can see will work is that you will derive a lot of kovod from your position. I'm not interested in your kovod." And he turned around and walked away.

I was lucky I had a rav who could tell me exactly where I had gone wrong. My question had really not been put fairly at all. It wasn't the way to ask. But generally speaking, when you ask a rav a question he answers according to the way you put the question. He can only answer the question that is put to him. He can't tell you that you should have asked another question.

The next point is that your rav isn't always there. There are so many questions and in my case, for example, Rav Dessler was in Eretz Yisroel on many occasions and I couldn't get to him. There are various barriers and impediments and you can't always go to the rav.

So where are we? Sometimes you cannot go to the rav. Sometimes you simply don't ask him the question or, if you do ask him the question, you don't ask him fair and square. You may be left with many problems which you don't ask or you don't accept the rav on those matters.

If you have a rav and accept him and you ask properly, fine. It is one of the major eitzos you've got to find the truth.

Eliminating the False

But the bottom line of this is that every person who has life problems cannot expect to see the truth. Still, one thing he can see is what is not true. You may not know what is true, but you do know that what is not true is false.

Let me give you a practical example from Chumash. Yisro, the father in law of Moshe Rabbeinu, worshiped every kind of idolatry under the sun. Do you know why? Because he was searching for truth.

He served every kind of idolatry and rejected each of them, until he finally came to the truth. He was in a situation where he could not find truth, but he could find what is false. He could reject falsehood. You very often don't know the truth, but you do know what's false.

The reason for this is that the truth is hidden in every person from birth. You're taught everything before you're born and it's latent within you. The whole Torah is taught to each child before it is born, and he's made to forget it. But the result is that it's latent within him. In other words, the truth lies in everyone's heart, just covered over with self-interest so that he has a hard time to find it. But if you break through, you come to the truth which you always knew. You know it's the truth when you see it: "Nikorim divrei emes."

What to Do

One has to do everything possible. He or she must reject what is false; he or she must do whatever they can by going and asking a rav and trying to ask fully and honestly. Try that eitzah. It's a very good eitzah and very many people use it successfully in finding the truth.

"Marbeh eitzah, marbeh tevunah." Ask advice from others. Try everything. You should certainly try to be mevatel your own will, to negate your own biases, as much as you can. Try to get rid of your self interest as much as you can. You won't manage to do it completely, but try the best you can.

After you have given it your best effort, in your heart of hearts you will suddenly find, once you've done all you have to do, that the truth will become clear to you.

Final Important Advice

But there's one thing you still have to do that I haven't yet mentioned, and it is very, very necessary. When Dovid Hamelech was faced with a life problem and he didn't know what to do, he started the 86th Psalm like this: "Tefillah leDovid -- he prays -- hateih Hashem oznecho aneini, HaKadosh Boruch Hu, incline Your ear to me, answer me."

It is a terrible position when you just don't know what to do. We say, "Ein simcha kehatoras hasefeikos." There's nothing more joyous in life than when you get clarity -- when you know exactly that this is what you have to do. But if you're not clear, and you've got problems, and you don't know where to turn, it's terrible -- the worst. Dovid Hamelech continued: "Ki oni ve'evyon oni -- I'm a poor man; I'm needy in this matter." I haven't got my own resources. "Samei'ach nefesh avdecho -- Give me joy!" There's no joy like the joy of finding the truth about your doubts. Give me that, he prayed. "Ha'azino Hashem tefillosi -- give ear to my prayer. Hakshivo lekol tachanunosoi -- I'm supplicating; please listen to me. Beyom tzorosi ekro'eko -- I'm in trouble; I'm calling to you. Ki sa'aneini -- please answer me."

What do you want? "Horeini Hashem darkecho -- teach me Your way. Ahaleich ba'amitecho -- I want to walk in Your truth." Not in my truth -- my supposed truth, my blinded truth. I want to walk ba'amitecho -- in Your truth. Tell me what is true in Your eyes.

"Yacheid levovi -- make my heart one." One? When you have many interests, your heart is not one. You have life problems, you've got negi'os, you have self interests pulling in many different ways. I want my heart to be one -- yacheid levovi -- make it one. Make it a technical problem, and I will find out what is Your will and I'll know what to do. "Leyiroh shemecho -- And then I can fear Your Name."

That's what Dovid prayed for.

You must pray to find the truth. It's one of those things that you must do. You must try to annul interests which you know are not in line with Torah.

Then you go to a rav. Or you make somebody your rav. And when you make somebody your rav, you may be biased in looking for a rav. And you'll have to do the same thing there -- to know that you are biased; that this is not the truth. And you'll know you're not being sincere. But you can pray for that, as well. You can pray to the Ribono shel Olom: Show me Your way, teach me Your way, give me the teacher for Your way. Give me the one who has to show it to me.

And then when it comes, you'll feel in your heart of hearts that this it.

Yaakov Ovinu Paved the Way

Yaakov Ovinu found truth -- Titein emes leYaakov. And when he first came back to Eretz Yisroel, he came back to the Holy Land, a land of kedusha. When you are in a land of holiness, you can find truth. When holiness is all around you it's easy to find truth. In that way, he became sholeim -- he was perfect in Eretz Yisroel.

But there's another stage to acquire, because what the Ovos acquired was for their children. "Maaseh Ovos siman lebonim." He had to give us something of this emes. He went to Mitzrayim, a place where there was immorality and idolatry. He lived there for seventeen years with no yetzer hora. He had no personal interests. He got rid of all of his negi'os and those were the best years of his life. He had everything, kol. Where? In Mitzrayim, in Egypt, in the darkest of dark places.

And what he has given to us now is that wherever our lives take us, we can find truth. In the world around us there are many dark places, and we have to find the truth in the darkest of places. Maybe when we're in surroundings with wonderful people, with kedusha around us, it's not so difficult to come to truth. But when we go away, and we go into all our avenues of life, we need to find truth wherever we go. And if we try sincerely to get it, we'll get it.

And that's the greatest joy of life -- ein simcha kehatoras hasfeikos.

This is based on the tape of a talk originally delivered on December 26, 1988.

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