| Parshah |

Truly Yours

Happy are we who know that there is something called “emes”! 


“You should have a perfect and honest measure…” (25:15)


G-d’s imprimatur is Truth. In Hebrew, the word for “truth” — emes — consists of the first, the last, and the middle letters of the alef-beis. Truth is unmalleable, unswerving from the beginning to the end. Not so in contemporary society.
In 2016, after much discussion, debate, and research, the word elected to be Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year was “post-truth” — an adjective defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Our society has given up on the truth. It doesn’t believe in an absolute truth, and in its stead, it has replaced truth with the demand for “respect.”
If truth doesn’t exist, by definition, your beliefs have an equal validity to mine. Thus, you are obliged to respect and give place to my “truth” — seeing as it is as true or untrue as your “truth.” A case in point is the metamorphosis of the word “narrative.” “Narrative” means a story. It’s been misappropriated from the world of fiction. Narrative has replaced the truth. For example, now we have an Israeli narrative and a Palestinian narrative. Implicitly, the use of the word “narrative” in this sort of way denies the existence of a third possibility — the Truth. (Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair, Ohr Somayach Institutions)

With all due respect to Ben Franklin (or Edwin Sandys), honesty isn’t the best policy. It’s the only policy. And rare and appreciated are the honored few who live this way.

Take my relative, Avraham. He’s the type of person to whom right and wrong aren’t amorphous gray areas, but clear demarcations that guide his life.

What a triumph such “truth” is for the spin doctors! Oh, and there’s another Brave New Word: spin doctors, meaning, “liars.” All the following nouns want to attach themselves to truth, but they all mean lies: poetic truth, parallel truth, virtual truth, alternative reality, strategic misrepresentations, creative enhancement, selective disclosure, augmented reality, counterfactual statements… Present day synonyms for the verb “to lie” include: to enrich the truth, to enhance the truth, to embroider the truth, to massage the truth, to bend the truth, to soften the truth, to shade the truth, to shave the truth, to make things clearer than the truth… The list goes on.

A little while back, Avraham had a sh’eilah for his rav. Avraham works part-time as a broker, selling medical supplies. One of his clients placed a nice-sized order for $35,000 and paid immediately. Yet the next day, Avraham found $35,000 times two in his bank account. He contacted the customer several times, but he never heard back. It soon became clear that the customer simply didn’t care that he had double-paid. He was just a buyer, he didn’t own the company, and to him it really made no difference how much the material actually cost, as long as the supplies ended up in their right destination.

Returning such money without the proper paperwork to back it was complicated for Avraham. But the money wasn’t his. He contacted his rav and explained the story: the buyer didn’t care, the company wasn’t Jewish, and the paperwork would be complex. What to do?

“According to the letter of the law, you are not obligated to return the money,” the rav paskened, “but it’s worthwhile to do so.”

That’s the answer Avraham wanted to hear.  Despite the complexity of the bookkeeping hassle, the money was returned to the buyer — all $35,000.

Such are the shifting sands of reality and its linguistic mirages that plague our modern world. Happy are we who know that there is something called “emes”! Truth. Happy are we who have “a perfect and honest measure” of the world.

No, this story doesn’t have a clichéd fairy tale ending with a huge kiddush Hashem and the buyer falling with admiration and posting a clip that goes viral singing the praises of our holy nation.

What actually happened was that the buyer didn’t even acknowledge the return. And there was no one to pat Avraham on the back and tell him what a wonderful thing he did. But that wasn’t what drove Avraham in the first place. This was just the only policy that Honest Abe lives by.


 (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 809)

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