By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
At the beginning of this week’s parsha, Yaakov Avinu declares, “Katonti mikol hachassodim umikol ha’emes asher asisah es avdecha – I have become small because of all the kindness and truth which Hashem has performed with me…”
Yaakov’s gratitude for Hashem’s kindness needs no explanation. When Yaakov arrived from his father’s home, he was penniless and alone. Now he was returning to Eretz Yisroel, after two decades in Lavan’s home, with wives and children, laden with possessions. In the face of such an outpouring of kindness, Yaakov felt humbled and undeserving.
But what is meant by kindness and truth? Why would Hashem’s dealing truthfully with him evoke humbled gratitude in Yaakov? Rashi explains that Yaakov was grateful to Hashem for being true to His word, and fulfilling His promises to him.
Perhaps we can understand “emes” in this posuk in another sense as well. Yaakov was deeply grateful for being dealt with honestly. In a world of darkness, in a world of Lavans, one is confronted with subterfuge at every turn. One must navigate between liars and their lies as he seeks to pave a successful path.
A person is appreciative when meeting up with someone who deals with him honestly. Whether or not you are given the news you wanted or the answer you anticipated, you are thankful that you know the truth of your situation. You are able to form a meaningful plan because you know what your options are.
When people mislead you, they rob you of the ability to make a determination based on fact. You are forced to try to read between the lines and see past the deception in order to proceed safely.
Yaakov was thankful for being dealt with truthfully, though he wasn’t always happy with what he was told. He dispatched scouts to learn what kind of danger he faced as he set out on his trek back home. He certainly wasn’t happy to learn that his brother Eisav was approaching him with an army of four hundred men. But he was grateful that since he had been answered truthfully, he was able to prepare himself to confront Eisav.
Too often, we sense danger ahead, but we are unable to properly address our concerns because those we depend upon aren’t honest in their appraisals of the situation. We see ill winds blowing all around us, but if we don’t examine their roots and causes honestly, we can’t expect to be able to defend and fortify ourselves.
Our community seeks to deal with a wide range of serious problems, including shiduchim; abuse; drop-outs; children rejected by schools; overcrowded schools; rising tuitions; unemployment; inadequate incomes; the high cost of living and the myriad other issues which vex us. To formulate solutions, we must be able to honestly examine the substance of the issue without being straight-jacketed by tunnel vision, and political correctness. If we are not forthright in our introspection, we will be overwhelmed by the dynamics and complexity of the difficulties.
People who care about the truth get angry when they are told a lie. People who seek out the truth are not afraid of it. The truth is what strengthens them. The more the facts emerge, the clearer their focus and the stronger their convictions.
Contrast this approach with individuals whose philosophy is built on self-deception and lies. Think of those whose way of life is fraught with duplicity. These people are threatened by the truth. They are scared of the facts. They hide from reality. And when confronted and boxed in by the truth, they lash out angrily.
People who know that they are right don’t have to sweep issues under the rug. They are secure in their beliefs and do not have to resort to convoluted thinking, denials or verbal attacks to get across their message. When faced with an issue they are able to examine it forthrightly and honestly, and arrive at a proper solution.
Similarly, countries built on lies and tyrannical governments lock their borders. They don’t permit their people to leave and don’t allow foreigners to enter. They are afraid that if their citizens learn the truth, they will revolt. So these governments feed their citizens a steady diet of fabrications in an attempt to indoctrinate them with the greatness of their government and idyllic way of life they have created for their citizens. But these leaders know that it is all a sham, so they ensure that the masses are never educated about the truth.
Much the same, leaders of democracies who can’t face up to the truth usually don’t last too long. Consider the slow and steady political decline of our current president. Though his party was thoroughly trounced in the most recent election, he refuses to recognize the vote as a referendum on his policies. Though he was touted as the best orator to ever occupy the White House, and although he drew thousands of ecstatic listeners to his rallies prior to election, he blames his plummeting ratings on his failure to properly communicate with the American people.
Someone who can’t recognize the truth, even when it smacks him in the head, is bound to repeat his errors and cling to his misguided policies until it is too late to reverse course, and he is voted out of office.
President Obama not only reneged on his promise to be a post-partisan leader, but also on his platform to restore America’s respect and leadership in the world. It’s not only domestic policy that has been his undoing, he has also dropped the ball in the international arena. He embarrassed himself when he arrived in South Korea for the G-20 meeting and blamed the world for his country’s economic weakness.
China, Germany, France and England rejected US advice on how to recover from the worldwide recession. Their economies are on track, while Obama continues to devalue the dollar, seek to raise taxes, and increase the deficit. Dishonesty about the problem will only lead to unworkable solutions and more misery.
Lately, it has become fashionable for people in our community to advocate that we assume the voting habits of a dependency and ignore our obligation to seek a better social environment for ourselves and our children. On the one hand, we lament the moral depravity of American society and on the other, we enable them to foster their brand of immorality on the broader public. We can’t have it both ways. We can’t complain about society and then promote those who create an environment that morally and spiritually threatens us.
We should not be voting for people who destroy the nation’s economy, thinking that it will have no impact upon us. If the economy falters, that means less money for mosdos, less money for tuition, and less money for bikur cholims. We all suffer. If more and more of our hard-earned income goes toward taxes, then we will have less money to support our children in kollel and less money to help those who are destitute. There will be more unemployment, more stores closing down, and more people who can’t pay their bills.
It’s not only for altruistic reasons that we should vote for the better party. It is for self-serving ones as well.
The truth is the truth, any way you slice it. Our task is to fight for the truth, not to clear the way for falsehoods because we think that there will be some temporary payoff.
As Bnei Avrohom, Yitzchok v’Yaakov, we are heirs to a golden heritage of fidelity to the truth, the laws of the land, honesty and forthrightness in all that we do. We don’t believe that the ends justify the means, no matter how tempting the means or the ends, no matter how compelling and persuasive the argument. That is part of the duplicity that we must dismantle.
We know that sheker ein lo raglayim. Anything built on falsehood will eventually crumble. It may take time, and for a fleeting hour the equivocator will seem to prosper, but the inevitable result is failure and being forced to pay dearly for ill gotten, unprincipled, gains.
Cutting corners or lying for monetary gain is never a good idea. The declining economy, coupled with the irresponsible attitude that honesty in all matters is no longer a must, leads people to take risks they wouldn’t normally take. Those risks include fudging numbers and skirting the truth.
We become smaller when we lie. We are reduced when we aren’t truthful. Falsity diminishes us, makes us less real. We shrink in stature when we are dishonest. We lose on all levels when we don’t honestly look at the problems that confront us.
Yaakov Avinu merited to grow, prosper and receive Hashem’s chessed and emes because he was an ish emes. If we want to succeed as a people, as a community and as individuals, we should make it our goal to become anshei emes v’chessed.