Dealing with Adversity – Hashem’s Seal of Truth

In Parashas Shlach, after the Spies returned from spying Eretz Yisrael they told Moshe Rabbeinu, “… we came to the land where you sent us. And it’s flowing with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.”(Bamidbar 13:27). They then went on to speak negatively about the land, alleging that they could not conquer the inhabitants despite Hashem’s assurance to the contrary.

Rashi explains why they began with praise of the land by quoting the Gemara (Sotah 35a), ”Every falsehood that does not begin with a bit of truth will ultimately not hold up.”

Although their report contained some truth, the Spies sought to sow fear and distress among the Bnei Yisrael and formed their report accordingly. That night, Tishah B’Av, the people wept, insisting on returning to Egypt. Hashem decreed that that generation would not merit t0 enter Eretz Yisrael. Only their children would have that privilege, after wandering in the desert for another 38 years.

We see the devastating consequences of compromising truth.

The Torah prohibits falsehood in two places. “Midvar sheker tirchak – You shall distance yourself from a false word” (Shemos 23:7) and “Velo teshakru ish bamito – “Do not lie to one another” (Vayikra 19:11).

Chazal underscore the weightiness of these injunctions (Shabbos 55a): ‘The seal of Hakadosh Baruch Hu is emes, truth. Rashi explains this is so because this word begins with aleph – the first letter of the alef-beis, continues with mem – the middle letter – and concludes with saf, intimating two pesukim in Yeshayahu, “I, Hashem, am first, and with the last, I am He (41:4) and “I am the first and I am the last, and other than Me there is no G-d (44:6).

Referencing this principle of Chazal, Harav Moshe Sternbuch, shlita, explains that the baseness of falsehood warranted that the Torah not merely forbid it but requires that we distance ourselves from it. It is the opposite of emunah, he explains, and this prohibition is included in the command to avoid minnus, heresy (sefer Taam V’Daas).

As the Am Hanivchar we lead our lives according to the Torah. We will be accountable to the Borei Olam for our speech and actions in the next world. As frum Yidden we are visible among the nations who observe what we say and do. It is incumbent on us to make a kiddush Hashem by being truthful and honest.

Shortly after obtaining the position of Rav in Libau, Latvia, Harav Hillel Klein, zt”l, who later served as a leading Rav in the United States in the early 1900s, traveled to Frankfurt, Germany, to marry Gela (Julia) Hirsch, a granddaughter of Harav Samson Raphael Hirsch, zt”l.

After the chasunah, the young couple set out to return to Libau. At the checkpoint, the newlyweds’ belongings, including wedding gifts and household furnishings, were subject to inspection. Impressed with Rav Klein’s regal bearing, the inspector suggested he declare their items as used, saving them a duty payment. Rav Klein refused, declaring everything to be new. Such was his lifelong trait of integrity.

One major challenging area for those who want to pursue emes is the internet. Modern technology allows anyone to post information that may or not be true for the whole world to see. Yet, much of this information causes anger, jealousy and an entire range of negative emotions and leads people to counterproductive behavior. We must be extremely cautious about what information we allow our minds to process.

The Gemara relates in Sanhedrin (97a) that a certain chacham visited a town called Kushta (Aramaic for “truth”) whose residents would not tell a falsehood and none of them would pass away before their time. He married a woman of that town and settled there. One day he related a falsehood in a situation where he felt it was proper. Afterward, his family experienced a tragic incident which he linked to the untruth after which the townspeople requested that he leave in order not to trigger more mishaps among them. Citing this Gemara, sefer Orchos Tzaddikim (Shaar Ha’emes) asserts that one who speaks only truth will have arichas yamim and be saved from misfortune.

There was a law student who managed to cheat on his exams and yet finished law school. A colleague of his said he feels that since his career is based on deceit this individual feels he never really earned whatever success he attained. His professional life continued along that trajectory and he fears that someone will catch on one day.

Another lawyer who is a model of integrity once completed a case for a client for which the final bill was $75,000. There was $80,000 in the attorney-client trust account. The lawyer gave him a check for $5,000.

“I never had a lawyer who gave me back money,” he remarked.

“It’s not my money. I didn’t earn it,” replied the lawyer. Before depositing it, the client made a copy of the check and displayed it on his wall. He wanted a reminder of the Jewish lawyer who was truthful with him.

Rabbi Yosef Gesser is a longtime writer for Hamodia Newspaper as well as an inspirational speaker on various topics, including dealing with adversity. He can be reached at ygesser@hamodia.com.

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