by Yochonon Dovid
A Life of Truth
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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