Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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2 Tammuz 5763 - July 2, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
A Life of Truth

by Yochonon Dovid

Among the titles and accolades which are used to praise a person is the distinguished phrase of "A man of truth," or "An honest man."

If we were to ask the person conferring this praise how he knows that the object of the title is truly worthy of it, he might answer, "I never caught him at any untruth. If he says it is four-fifteen, it is exactly four-fifteen, to the minute. When he says that he is repeating something he read in the paper, you can be sure that it is almost verbatim what the paper wrote. A man like that is really telling the truth."

A brief examination will show that most, if not all, people deserve the above title. When you are in a different city and ask a passerby how one can get to the municipality, you can assume to a surety that when he gives you directions, he is telling the truth. He will say, "Hurry up! The bus at that stop goes directly there." So you run and catch the bus without suspecting for a moment that he might be misleading you. The basic assumption of each person is that someone who is not personally involved in the matter will not lie just for the sake of lying. This is our approach to every person, even those we do not know in the least.

This level of truth which jibes neatly with reality is the first and most basic level, applicable to the general public.

Above that is a level that includes a measure of personal obligation and responsibility. Your friend tells you ceremoniously that punctually at four he will come by your house and pick you up in his car. Past experience has taught you that he is liable to come some fifteen minutes late, if not much more. The delay is not intentional, to be sure, and he will always have a valid and detailed explanation in justification. But when you are pacing the pavement in front of your house, you have enough time to sum up the lessons of the past and arrive at a conclusion that a promise like this has a negligible element of truth to it.

Indeed, few are the people who take pains to arrive at the time they promised without making apologies of "Just as I was about to go out the door, the phone rang." Or, "There was a traffic jam at the intersection," or "I just remembered that the gas tank was almost empty," and so on. A man whose truth is at this level is true to his word. Not only does he say what suits reality, which is easy enough, but he makes sure that the reality conforms to what he has promised in advance. This level requires faithfulness to one's word and surmounting the difficulties that reality erects in his path.

It is easy enough to identify those who deserve the title "Man of truth" at the two levels we have mentioned. Reality highlights them in an unmistakable way. One who promises, "I'll bring you the book tomorrow," can be tested in the simplest way possible. On the morrow, if, instead of bringing the book he tells you why he forgot it, even if the reasons are most impressive, the description `reliable' does not apply to him any more. You relied on his promise and saw that it was an empty one. His sense of obligation to keep his word is very weak. Nor does your need of that book seem to bother him.

Of a worse degree is the person who prints wedding invitations for a chuppah that will take place "At 7:45, with tzeis hakochovim," knowing full well that the rabbi due to officiate only finishes his shiur in Yerushalayim at 8:15, at which time he must still take a cab to Bnei Brak. The precious time of his guests does not play much of a role in our host's reckoning, and misleading them appears justified in his eyes.

An additional type of truth, yet higher and more internal, is that of a man whose "mouth and heart are equal." When a seller lays his hand upon his heart and says, "Believe me, it cost me more," one can verify his words externally without examining his `heart.' Enough to examine the very facts and the reality to determine if he is telling the truth or stretching it into a lie.

Take the person who tries to convince you to accept a certain piece of advice or to do something, and tells you, "Believe me, I only have your welfare in mind. If this was suggested to my son, I'd jump at the opportunity and grab it with both hands. Don't let it slip by!"

You know for a fact that your agreement directly affects his personal interests and that he will reap benefit and profit if you listen to him. In such a case, can you possibly delve deeply into his heart to know if his enthusiastic urging is truly disinterested or not? It is most difficult, perhaps even impossible, to know if he is really considering only your good or if his personal interest has joined and biased his opinion to convince you both that it is most beneficial for you.

A most interesting question, one of utmost importance, is if he, himself, is aware of his inclination, of his bias in the matter. If his self-interest plays a role, is he capable of rising above it, or separating himself from it to neutralize it, lest it influence his final decision?

The gemora tells us of instances where judges of high caliber, gedolei Yisroel, excused themselves from sitting upon court cases where they had some personal interest involved. None of them said, "I know that I have a personal interest in this matter, but I can rise above it, neutralize it, and rule according to pure considerations of daas Torah."

Apparently, no person is altogether capable of disengaging himself completely from his personal bias. In order to judge truthfully and honestly, a judge requires total neutralization and dissociation. There must be no attempt to overcome a personal leaning. Do you see yourself able to advise someone in a subject where you have a personal involvement and self- interest? Is it sufficient for you to be aware of this self-interest for you to try your best not to be influenced by it so that your advice or encouragement be completely altruistic, unbiased and impartial?

You will encounter this problem when your good friend consults you about moving to another city for various reasons and considerations. If he ends up doing that, you will be losing a good friend and neighbor. Will you put yourself in his shoes and help him arrive at a decision that is best for him? Or are you better off removing yourself from tackling the question because of your own interest in the matter? Perhaps only a judge is required to employ a 100 percent pure attitude?

We are all proud of our ancestors who unanimously declared, "Naaseh venishma -- we will do and we will hear," whereas Asaf in Tehillim, notes that "Dovid did not prepare his heart" and "They coaxed him with their mouths and with their tongues deceived . . . and their heart was not true with him." The level of truth of the standard of "his mouth and heart were equal" is most exalted, so much that only a diviner of thoughts can testify of a person that "as his mouth, so is his heart."


We now skip up to the highest level of truth. At this degree, the test of truth is the perfect alignment between one's heart and his actions. This is a matter that is private to a person. It involves him and his conscience, him and Hashem. Nothing external intervenes. A person has principles in which he believes, and they are deeply embedded in his heart. These principles and truths are exhibited outwardly upon different occasions, and he demands they be honored and embraced by his children and students.

The question is -- to what degree are all of his actions, his entire conduct throughout his daily life, consistent with these principles in which he devoutly believes and which he spouts so vehemently and convincingly? This is the ultimate test by which a person is judged in the World of Truth.

Truth means identification all along the road between the thoughts in one's hearts, one's principles and beliefs, and the sum total of his deeds and conduct in life. This test is not specifically applicable to one deed, but correlates between action, conduct, and his inner convictions at any given hour of the day, day by day, throughout his entire lifetime.

Every moment of truth is worth all the effort invested in achieving it, for any discrepancy or misalignment, G- d forbid, is false and deceitful. And this has no place within the proximity of Hashem, the G-d of truth.

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