Lead with faith, truth will follow

I was only a few blocks away from my in-laws’ home in Baltimore, driving down Reisterstown Road, the miles-long street that cuts through the Jewish hub of Pikesville, when I quickly switched from the left to the right lane and just as quickly hit the side of an oncoming vehicle. The evidence at the scene was by no means conclusive as to whose fault it was. Did I not see the car to my left when switching lanes, or had the car I hit been speeding and pulled into what had previously been an empty lane?
It all happened so quickly that I wasn’t sure myself as to whom was at fault, but the other driver stepped out of his vehicle irate and I immediately apologized to him. I told him that I assumed that I must not have checked my sideview mirror before switching lanes and he seemed appeased. No police were called to the scene for an official statement, the other driver sufficiently convinced that I had owned up to the mishap and would share that sentiment when the insurance company came calling for my accounting of the day’s events.
I continued to think about the accident for days to come, questioning whether or not I was at fault. One thing was for certain, I had a minivan full of rowdy kids, the music was playing and my mind was not fully focused on the road. Although my doubts remained, it seemed most likely that it was I who was primarily at fault.
When the insurance company did finally call, it felt like a moral test of sorts. Without any official statements made at the scene of the accident, it would essentially come down to personal accountings, and I was keenly aware of multiple personally beneficial ways that I could present the details of the accident so as not to seem culpable. After all, I tried convincing myself, I wasn’t wholly convinced of my role in the crash, and who’s to say that the other driver wasn’t merely looking out for his own self-interest when he angrily exited his car, convinced of my wrongdoing?
But those weren’t the only thoughts I had that day. I also contemplated what it meant to be a person of faith. Not faith in the Aristotelian sense, of a Creator-God who builds worlds and just as quickly runs away from them, but of faith in a deeply personal God who calls upon us to perfect His world by acting as He acts, running toward that which is righteous and fleeing from all that is evil. Faith in the God of Israel, whose seal is emet, truth (see Talmud Yoma 69b), surely demanded my dogged commitment to the truth as well. My faith had taught me that values, and truth in particular, were of the greatest importance and that a life of righteousness might be paved with truthful, self-incriminating statements to insurance agents. My faith also reassured me that as God was my ultimate provider I need not stoop beneath my morals for monetary gain.
I took a deep breath and told the insurance agent the whole truth that I wasn’t sure myself as to what had happened that day, but that I couldn’t say for sure that I had checked my sideview mirror. I knew that those words would meet the insurance company’s burden of proof against me (especially since I knew what the other driver’s statement must have been) and yet I felt good knowing that the truth had not been sacrificed upon the altar of the almighty dollar.
I’ve thought about that call from the insurance agent many times over the years and feel that through that experience I’ve gained a clearer appreciation of what is required if one wishes to speak truth in even the most challenging of times. I realized that for those with powers of intellect and ingenuity, there were almost always ways to extricate oneself from even the most precarious of situations. The price, however, is often in the truth that must be sacrificed along the way. Becoming people of truth requires that we set aside those intellectual capacities that have served us so well in the past. We must become as “simpletons” who speak the truth without knowledge of which words self-incriminate and which words do not.
I can’t help but wonder if there lies a connection between the Hebrew word temimut (simultaneously translated as “integrity,” “innocence” or “wholesomeness”) and the word tam, the Hebrew word for a simpleton (as in the Haggadah’s relating of the four sons, one of whom is the simple son, the tam). Perhaps integrity and truth demand that we go back to a more simple way of thinking, setting aside our more complex ways of thinking for the study halls and the classrooms.
I consider all of these thoughts on the heels of the holiday of Sukkot, the holiday in which we are commanded to leave our comfortable, secure houses, and live for seven days in primitive outdoor huts, whose simple roofs of branches and twigs make for the perfect skylight up to the heavens. As we lie down in the evening and stare up at the moon and the shining stars that fill the night sky, we are filled with a sense of awe and renewed faith that it is not our sturdy, alarm-monitored houses that truly protect us, but God above.
Sukkot also welcomes us back to a more simple time and space, a world separated from the dominating forces of materialism that more and more saturate our world. On Sukkot we reaffirm that while we need money to live, it is faith that must always lead the way. And when faith leads the way the truth is sure to follow.

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