Today’s learning is dedicated to the refuah sheleima of Simcha Nosson ben Zissel.
Attribute # 10 – Give Truth to Yaakov – תתן אמת ליעקב
This Attribute points to a virtue of Yisrael. Average Jews, who do not know how to go beyond the precise letter of their obligations, are called “Yaakov,” because they conduct themselves only according to what is strictly true.
Hashem also has an Attribute of truth, on the side of justice and correctness. Towards those who act in this world with correctness, Hashem acts with truth – He has mercy on them on the side of correctness and justice.
So too, a person must treat his fellow on the side of correctness and truth, without veering from the justice of his fellow, to have mercy on him with truth – just as Hashem has mercy on the average people with the Attribute of truth, to rectify them. — Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, Tomer Devorah
The verse states, “So shall you say to the House of Yaakov, and tell Bnei Yisrael” (Shemos 19:3). The Ohr HaChaim explains that “Bnei Yisrael” refers to the Torah scholars, whereas the “House of Yaakov” refers to the simple Jews.
As Rabbi Shmuel Meir Riachi explains, “The name Yisrael means leadership. It refers to the best of our nation, the tzaddikim among us. The name Yaakov refers to the average Jews… Tzaddikim go beyond their minimum obligation in their relationship with Hashem. They fulfill mitzvos in the most mehudar (grand or adorned) way, beyond what is demanded of them. And in their relationship with others, they go the extra mile.”
Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel, the Kopischnitzer Rebbe (1888-1967) was not one to cut corners. Once, for instance, after baking matzos, he tipped one of the Jewish workers who kneaded the dough. Several days later, the Rebbe returned to the matzah bakery to bake “Erev Pesach matzos,” and again tipped the worker, who reminded him, “The Rebbe has already fulfilled his obligation.” The Rebbe replied, “Ich bin nisht gekummen oif di velt, I didn’t come to this world, yotzeh tzu zein, merely to fulfill my obligations.” The tzaddikim capitalize on every opportunity, continuously striving to attain new heights.
In this context, the name “Yaakov” refers to someone who does what is strictly required of them, without going beyond their obligations. Rabbi Riachi explains, “It is difficult for them to be giving or forgiving beyond the dictates of justice.” This attitude also applies in their mitzvah observance.
This Attribute teaches us that although Hashem judges such a person with justice, He does so mercifully and compassionately. Hashem takes into consideration the “truth” from that person’s perspective.
Rabbi Riachi teaches, “When we show consideration and mercy to those who do not go beyond the precise letter of their obligation, Hashem sees this and has mercy even upon those average people who do at least what is just and true.”
In Parshas Nitzavim, Moshe turns to the Jewish nation and announces that all of them, from the leaders down to the simple laborers, have assembled to make a covenant, a direct relationship, with Hashem. Rav Leib Chasman noted in reference to these verses that each and every Jew has a special relationship with Hashem, even the woodcutter and the watercarrier. As Rabbi Efrem Goldberg elaborates, “Regardless of one’s social standing or economic status, he has a personal relationship with Hashem. This is not a privilege reserved for the elite, for the great tzaddikim or prominent community leaders; it is granted to each and every one of us.”
Because of this personal connection we share with Hashem, He evaluates our deeds on an individual level. What is expected from one person is different than the other. Before passing judgement, Hashem considers every circumstance, thought and action leading up to that event.
This Attribute of Mercy teaches us to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, to see things from their point of view. As we’ve quoted previously, the Talmud states, “Just as no two faces are alike, so too no two minds are alike.” The Kotzker Rebbe explained, “Just as you can tolerate that people look different than you, so too you should tolerate that they think differently than you.”
Similarly, the Mishnah in Perkei Avos states, “Judge every person meritoriously.” The Baal HaTanya explains that if you can interpret another person’s deeds as something positive, do so. But even if the act is certainly sinful, we can still judge the person favorably by recognizing that it his circumstances and particular temptations that caused him to sin (see Tanya, ch. 30).
The Rebbe in Biurim goes one step further and says that even their sins can be considered as merits… The fact that these temptations are being placed before this person demonstrates that he has the spiritual resources to overcome them, since man’s challenges are commensurate with his moral strength (Bamidbar Rabbah 12:3).
Another Mishnah in Perkei Avos states, “Do not judge your fellow until you have come to his place” (2:4). Since we can never fully comprehend the motives and emotions behind another person’s actions, it is not our place to pass negative judgement.
However, the Sages taught, “One who judges others favorably is himself judged favorably” (Shabbos 127b). The Sfas Emes questions the logic of this declaration; while it is appropriate for mortals do judge each person favorably (since we do not possess complete information), how can we say this about Hashem, Who is fully aware of every possible rationale and motive behind our behavior? He answers that in the merit of displaying this difficult character trait of judging others favorably, Hashem shows His appreciation, so to speak, ensuring an advantageous verdict.
(Commenting on the dictum “Judge every person meritoriously,” the Chozeh of Lublin questions, “Who appointed him to be a judge?!” He answers, “Someone who always gives others the benefit of the doubt deserves to be a judge.”)
The Talmud discusses a scenario of a man marrying a woman who is unattractive. His friends and family want to compliment his bride with words of praise, “The bride is beautiful and graceful,” but they find themselves in a quandary… What should they say? Beis Shammai said, “Praise the bride as she is.” Meaning, find something praiseworthy and focus on that point. Whereas Beis Hillel said, “They should say that the bride is beautiful and graceful.” Bais Shammai questioned this approach, “And what if she is limping and blind? The Torah orders us not to lie.” To which Bais Hillel responded, “According to you, what should we tell a person who made a bad purchase in the marketplace? Should we criticize or praise it? Of course we should praise it!” From here, the Talmud rules in favor of Beis Hillel and concludes, “A persons outlook should be ‘mixed’ with the outlook of others.” Rashi explains that we should treat each person as he wants to be treated. As Rabbi Riachi explains, “He should be in tune with the feelings of others, to know how they see things and understand the ‘truth’ from their perspective.”
The Chasam Sofer explains Beis Hillel’s ruling to mean that we should compliment others, even if we don’t necessarily see things as they do. If, for example, a person purchases something that cannot be returned, and they are clearly content with the purchase, then there is no point in criticizing it. We should praise it. When we consider their point of view, this is not considered dishonest, since it is true from the other person’s vantage point. We rely on their truth.
Now, Rebbe Nachman emphasizes that the uniqueness of “truth” is its singularity, its oneness. Rebbe Nachman teaches, “There is only one truth, but a whole multitude of lies. You can only say one truth about any given object – only what it is and nothing else. Silver is silver and only silver. Gold is gold and only gold. But lies can be multiplied without end. Silver can be called copper… or tin… or lead… or any other name you can think of… Where the truth is acknowledged to be only one, there is no place for opposition. So the truth will remain and endure forever because the truth is one; that Hashem is One. All the lies and falsehood will pass from the world and this one truth will remain. For, ‘The truth of Hashem is forever’ (Psalms 117:2).” Similarly, Rabbi Shimon Schwab zt’l said, “99% emes (truth), is 100% sheker (false).”
However, Rebbe Nachman provides one caveat… He teaches, “One is permitted to distort the truth in order to preserve peace.” One instance where we see Hashem Himself display this consideration is when He told Sarah she would give birth to a son at age ninety. The verse states, “And Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘Now that I have lost my ability, am I to have enjoyment – with my husband so old.’” However, when confronting Avraham, Hashem only said, “Why did Sarah laugh saying, ‘Should I in truth bear a child, old as I am?’” For the sake of peace, Hashem made no mention of Sarah’s reference to Avraham’s old age.
(Rebbe Nachman urges us to be receptive to the truth, even if we may see things differently. He teaches, “One who always wants to be victorious is very intolerant of the truth. The truth may be staring him in the face, but because he is determined to win at all costs, he ignores it completely. If you want to find the real truth, you must rid yourself of the urge to win. Then you will be able to see the truth if you wish.” Similarly, the Lubavitcher Rebbe once told a student who found himself in a heated dispute, “It is better to lose an argument and win a friendship, than win an argument and lose a friendship.”)
Similarly, the Meiri states regarding complimenting a bride, “A person need not be worried that he might praise her with qualities she does not really possess. Rather, he should praise her generously, even more than is really fitting for her. A person’s mind should be aligned with those around him, provided this does not entail a chilul Hashem (dishonoring Hashem’s name). He should not be exacting with people, to speak or act towards them no more than the bare minimum of what they deserve. Rather, he should be generous in his deeds and speech. The more he does, the more he is praised.”
As Rabbi Riachi explains, “There is no dishonesty or insincere flattery in treating each person according to that person’s outlook. This is the real ‘truth,’ which the Torah obligates us to follow.”
Throughout the Talmud, there are many debates between Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel. In general, Beis Shammai’s positions were stricter than those of Beis Hillel. The final ruling however, nearly always followed the opinion of Beis Hillel. But this was not because Beis Shammai was wrong in their ruling, as the Talmud states that a Heavenly voice declared, “Elu v’elu divrei Elokim Chayim; These and these are both the words of the Living G-d.” Although both schools of thought held completely opposite rulings, they were both correct. Clearly, opposing opinions can still reflect truth, insight, respect and holiness.
(Although Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai had differing opinions regarding the laws of marriage and divorce, they intermarries nonetheless; displaying the utmost esteem for one another. As a matter of fact, the Talmud teaches that the reason we typically follow the opinion of Beis Hillel is because of the consideration, respect and honor they displayed towards Beis Shammai. They were agreeable and forbearing, showing restraint when affronted; when they taught the final ruling they would teach both their own statements and the statements of Beis Shammai. Moreover, when they formulated their teachings and cited a dispute, they prioritized the statements of Beis Shammai to their own statements, in deference to Beis Shammai.)
Hashem also judges a person only after considering the “truth” from that person’s point of view. Although strict judgement would be fair, Hashem understands the ways of humans and contemplates their specific situation. As we said on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur in U’Nesaneh Tokef, “You are their Creator, and you know their yeitzer, for they are flesh and blood.” As Rabbi Riachi explains, “Hashem takes into consideration that He created man with all his failings and desires. He understands the ‘big picture’ of a person’s situation.”
When we act towards others with respect and consideration for their perspective, we awaken Heavenly mercy from Above, revealing the Attribute of “Give truth the Yaakov.”