Honesty Above All


rabbi-pinchos-lipschutz-By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

We read in this week’s parsha of the unfortunate relationship between the shevotim. They didn’t like Yosef, and the posuk reports that, in fact, they were unable to speak to him peaceably (Bereishis 37:4).

Rashi quotes the Medrash which states that from the Torah’s disparaging remark about the brothers, we derive their praise. They didn’t possess the ability to be two-faced. They were unable to create an outward impression of friendship while feeling otherwise in their hearts.

The shevotim were men of truth and authenticity. Hypocrisy didn’t work for them.

In today’s world, the ability to be two-faced is lauded and referred to as acting diplomatically. In the Torah’s set of values, such conduct is reviled. The Torah’s admonition not to hate your brother, “Lo sisnah es achicha bilevovecha” (Vayikra 19:17), has a double meaning: Don’t hate your brother and don’t keep that hate bottled in your heart and outwardly appear to love him.

As awful as hatred is, honesty remains an important value. For some reason, political leaders have made a career out of speaking with forked tongues, embracing and smiling at people they despise, saying one thing and meaning another. Such conduct eventually catches up with them, exposing them as the liars they are and causing both sides of any issue to detest them.

Take, as an example, the American president, who was elected on the promise that he would usher in a bipartisan era in which politics would take a back seat to the needs of the people. His administration would be open and honest. Americans were assured that a new world would dawn with his election, the economy would improve, world respect for the country would increase, and everyone would just get along. He’d restore hope to the hopeless and change the direction in which the country was headed.

But leadership isn’t earned through ambition or careful preparation. It requires the readiness to face real issues and confront them, head-on, intelligently, forthrightly and honestly. That is true in the general world and in our world as well.

Barack Obama came out of nowhere and leapfrogged to the top of the heap, because people thought that he was different. They projected upon his blank slate their dreams and those of their fathers.

People are desperate for leadership. They thirst for a savior, looking for a way out of their sadness. They are prepared to hitch their wagons to any charming salesman who comes by. They don’t ask too many questions for fear that their bubble of salvation will burst. They are taken in by sweet talk, pleasant accents, and charisma. They don’t look beneath the thin veneer, but instead, satisfy themselves with superficial gloss.

Thus, Obama won by dint of a glib tongue with persuasive, hopeful talk. But it was just lip service. His signature legislation, the health care plan, is built on lies. Through political tricks, the plan was forced on an unwilling populace by the president and his party. The liberals’ dream plan became law. When he campaigned, Obama promised the people that if they liked their health insurance, they’d be able to keep it, even after his plan went into effect. An examination of the law would have made its failings obvious. It would have been clear that in order for Obamacare to work, the old plans would have to go by the wayside.

When millions lost their coverage, the president sort of said he was sorry, but not really. Then, a week later, he said that people could keep their old plans, for a year. But it’s not that simple, and they probably have no plan to go back to.

He told Israel that he would defend it against Iran and then negotiated a deal with the country dedicated to the destruction of America and the Jewish state, enabling it to continue its march to nuclear power. He said that he cared about the Arab Spring’s battle for democracy and helped force America’s ally, Hosni Mubarak, out of power in Egypt, supporting his militant Muslim replacements. He helped push out Libya’s reformed leader, and now anarchy rules that African nation. Syrian freedom fighters were given the cold shoulder, and the tyrant Assad seems assured of his job for the foreseeable future.

He said a lot, he promised a ton, and he delivered very little.

We live in vacuous times. Problems abound and there is no shortage of threats. Every week brings new issues for us to surmount.

Last week, we read Yaakov Avinu’s statement, “Katonti mikol hachassodim umikol ha’emes asher asisah es avdecha.” Yaakov declared that he had become small due to all the kindness and truth that Hashem performed for him.

Yaakov arrived at Lavan’s house penniless and alone. Returning to Eretz Yisroel after two decades in Lavan’s home, surrounded by wives and children and laden with possessions, he said “katonti.” In the face of an outpouring of Hashem’s kindness, Yaakov felt humbled and undeserving.

But what did he mean when he said “mikol hachassodim umikol ha’emes, by all the kindness and truth”?

Rashi explains that Yaakov was grateful to Hashem for being true to His word and fulfilling His promises to him.

Why would Hashem dealing truthfully with him evoke humble gratitude in Yaakov?

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 someone who deals with him honestly. 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. Elifaz came to kill Yaakov, but because he was honest enough to spell out his evil intentions, Yaakov was able to outsmart him and remain alive.

Yaakov 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 Eisov was approaching with an army of four hundred men, but he was grateful that since he had been answered truthfully, he was able to prepare himself for the inevitable confrontation.

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 fortify ourselves and prepare a proper offense and defense.

Our community is confronted by a wide range of serious problems, including dissension, shidduch difficulties, abuse, drop-outs, children rejected by schools, overcrowded mosdos hachinuch, rising tuitions, inadequate incomes, and the high cost of living, to name a few.

To formulate proper solutions to our problems, we have to be able to honestly examine the issues without being locked in by myopic vision and political correctness. If we are not forthright in our introspection, we will be overwhelmed by the dynamics and complexity of the difficulties. If we are afraid to be open and honest, there is no way we can expect to solve anything.

When faced with serious issues, as we definitely are, we must have the courage, intelligence and maturity to examine them honestly. To come up with solutions for vexing problems, we have to acknowledge their existence.

As bnei Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov, we know that sheker ein lo raglayim. Anything built on falsehood will eventually crumble. Yaakov Avinu merited to grow, prosper and be blessed with Hashem’s chessed and emes because he was an ish emes. If we want to succeed in overcoming our challenges, we have to be anshei emes v’chessed.

The only way to effectively solve a problem is to actually do something about it. Politicians deliver flowery speeches, which sound nice and cause momentary exultation, but actual change is in the hands of those who act.

In order to fix the mess created by the plan that controls one-sixth of the nation’s economy and affects the health of every citizen, the fundamental untruths that were employed to push it through over the past three years have to be acknowledged and rolled back.

The government’s intolerable ineptitude, spending hundreds of millions of dollars irresponsibly, was exposed for all to see.

In an era of communication and technological advancement, the White House leadership waffles, backtracks, and appears lost. People lack confidence in the leadership and try to get by on their own. In our day, there are no secrets. All agendas are eventually exposed.

Leaders have to demonstrate results. They must be prepared to lead, to show the way, to stand up and be counted. They must know where to draw the line and how to defend against onslaughts with affective voices that will be heard and respected.

The posuk says, “Vayaker Yehudah vayomer tzodkah mimeni.” Yehudah admitted that Tamar was correct in what she had done and that he was wrong. She was prepared to give up her life rather than cause him to be embarrassed. He admitted his failings and her life was spared. Due to her act of selflessness and the character of Yehudah, Moshiach, who will save the world, was born.

We all possess the ability to help bring about change and contribute to the better good. We are all grandchildren of the avos and children of people who gave so much of themselves so that we can be here today, living productive Torah lives. Let’s do it honestly and forthrightly.

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  1. Oh Rabbi, I am many years older than you and have lived through a hell worse than Hurricane Sandy. We REALLY did lose everything. So, what are you going to do about it now that you finally figured it out? We live in a corrupt greedy dishonest world full of excuses, cover-ups, (self made) crises, etc. I have never seen so many (even) “older” people leaving the “fold” as I witness today and believe you me I have seen and lived through much seemingly worse than today. The only difference, I dare say, are the false prophets of today. I think (nay, I am sure) that you know exactly what I mean and that it’s time for big changes from leaders that are not afraid to speak the HONEST truth. I am behind you. Yell if you need a push.

  2. “Our community is confronted by a wide range of serious problems, including … overcrowded mosdos hachinuch, rising tuitions, inadequate incomes, and the high cost of living, to name a few.

    “To formulate proper solutions to our problems, we have to be able to honestly examine the issues without being locked in by myopic vision and political correctness.”

    One example of political correctness is to continue to maintain hostility toward limudei chol when that hostility leads to underemployment at best and unemployment at worst for a large chunk of the frum community. The circumstances described in the first paragraph are getting more dire. The solution is to promote parnassah.

    Knowing full well that most frum children today will not grow up to become full-time kollel, rabbonim or mechanchim, we must give them the tools to find meaningful, remunarerative work in this information economy.