Dear Rabbi Fried,
During a recent trip to Israel I spent time with my yeshiva-educated cousins. I have a lot of respect for their devotion and dedication to their beliefs. On the other hand, as a Reform Jew, I was really bothered by the feeling I got from our discussions that only they, with their understanding of Torah, have the real truth. I firmly believe in the pursuit of truth, and feel that I am engaged in that pursuit. It seems haughty and self-serving for someone or a group to claim that they and they alone know the truth. I’d appreciate your thoughts on this.
Since I was not present for your discussions with your cousins, I can’t speak for them and am not sure I would necessarily agree with everything they might have stated, despite our common yeshiva education.
I would, however, pose a few questions to you about your own pursuit of truth: What do you feel truth is?
Do you believe that there is an absolute truth?
Is not truth, by definition, something which is absolute?
Do you feel it is possible for there to be a number of truths, all simultaneously contradicting each other? If so, what exactly is the truth that you’re seeking?
Another issue: If you are seeking the truth, at what point will you know that you have found it? Do you believe that there is such a point? Or, by definition, it’s all about the pursuit of truth, but it can never really be found. Because if you will find it, then you will know the truth, and you, then, will be just like your cousins that feel they know the truth; and that is distasteful in your eyes. Is the pursuit of truth for the sake of finding it, or is the whole point the pursuit itself?
Furthermore, if truth is so elusive that it can never be found, what’s the point in pursuing it in the first place?
It is quite true that traditional Torah Judaism strongly believes that there is an absolute Truth which exists in the world. That Truth is the key which unlocks the riddle of our existence and purpose in this world. We also believe that that Truth is in the Torah, as it is called the “Torah of Truth” (Toras Emes). This is because G-d is the G-d of Truth (Hashem El-okim Emes), and the Torah is said to be His thoughts and the revelation of His purpose in the creation of the universe. It is quite relaxing and exhilarating to have clarity of purpose, not to have to keep on searching for purpose and meaning from anew.
At the same time, however, Torah Judaism is in constant pursuit of the Truth. This may seem contradictory; on one hand we claim to have the Truth, how could we simultaneously be seeking Truth?
The answer is, the Torah is so vast and profound, one needs to be totally immersed in it to understand the Truths therein. One could, theoretically, be devoutly observant and even quite knowledgeable, but still completely miss the point of what the Truth of Torah is revealing. This, says King Solomon, the wisest of men, that if one will search for the Truth within Torah like a hidden treasure, then they will understand the true message and connection to G-d through Torah.
A “hidden treasure” suggests that you know for sure that the treasure is there, just hidden, so you’ll do everything within your power to find it. To say we have found the ultimate meaning of Torah may be haughty, but we know where to look, and every step of the way brings us closer and in clearer focus of the
Truth, fulfilling the purpose that we’re here for, and solving the great riddle of life.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is the founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Rabbi Fried,