During one of my classes I was asked, how come I perceive Judaism and specifically Orthodox Judaism with lenses that are not always in sync with my peers? Why am I discontent to just go with the flow and follow the path of least resistance? I was actually silenced by my inability to address the issue in a succinct and rational manner. Thus, I pen my thoughts with the hope that it may resolve some concerns.
As my brain begins its arduous task of processing my thoughts, my fingers are playing contrarian by refusing to type, fearful of the printed words’ permanence. I doubt I’m alone because any thinking person has questions, thoughts or issues he chooses to leave unresolved because of unknown ramifications of the proverbial “walls have ears” phenomena. Furthermore, it is often much better for society to leave certain matters buried and to refrain from airing controversial or dirty laundry in public. (Hence you may sense my procrastination!) Unfortunately I am not always at liberty to be silent; my profession demands that the inner consciousness collide with portfolios I have been handed.
This week we read the portion of Mishpatim, the section of the Torah that deals will laws that for the most part are reasonable and logical. Yet the mitzvah of “Midvar Sheker Tirchak” or “keep away from falsehood” is a concept that the atheist finds rational, but even the most pious have difficulty fulfilling. Instead of pointing the proverbial finger and being judgmental, I will be introspective and self-critical. My job requires interaction with a plethora of diverse people, many of whom seek advice, guidance or sympathy. Can I be certain my advice is truthful? Are the sagacious words that emanate from mouths ever tinged with self-serving hyperbole? Are halachic rulings ever mitigated based on political or financial considerations? Would I ever promote my community to a prospective member instead of another that may be more suitable? These are just illustrations of how easily I could misrepresent my position and violate a basic ethical code of religion.
Unfortunately the answer to all of the above is an embarrassing but resounding yes. At the conclusion of the Shma we say Hashem Elokeichem Emet or that God is truthful. While we may all aim to reach Godly heights, it is often beyond our reach. While I genuinely make an effort to deal with people in a sincere manner, I realize that the potential to err is human and my canonicals do little to shield me. It is not an excuse; it is a truism. My intention is not to offer a mea culpa, rather to be a dover emet bilvavo, to speak the language of truth even if it’s self-denigrating and demeaning.
Therefore the answer may be found in the following words: honesty and integrity are not only morally correct; they are biblical mandates that are formative components of Judaism. I realize if I fail to be honest with my own questions, then my integrity in dealing with others is in jeopardy. If I allow complacency to break down my resistance, then I fail myself and ultimately my community.
Honesty and correctness are unfortunately not mutually inclusive. There are matters that I believe in deeply and publicly share my thoughts, only to realize I was absolutely wrong. The Torah’s frame of reference for honesty revolves around the judicial system, a system based upon a premise that would serve us all well in our personal lives. It is a system where the majority rules and the minority opinions are dismissed, yet the minority who offered the incorrect decision still remains part of the judicial system. Although their rulings are not accepted, the premises for their decision are based upon a truthful comprehension of the law. That is what we all we should be asking for, yet it is often much more than we can expect.
Rabbi Jack Engel