Jewish Value of the Week: Honesty, Emet
Honesty is about being truthful. Jewish tradition teaches us that truth, emet, is the beginning, middle and end of everything. The secret of this puzzling idea can be found in the three letters of the word emet. Alef is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, mem is the middle and tav is the final letter. Just as the alphabet helps us discover truth, with emet, we begin our discovery of the values we treasure in Jewish life.
There are seven types of thieves, but a “thought thief” (one who deceives another) is the worst of all. (Mechilta, Mishpatim 13, 135)
Such is the punishment of the liar — even when speaking the truth, the person is not listened to by another. Sanhedrin 89b
Teach your tongue to say, “I don’t know,” lest you be caught in a lie. (Brachot 4a)
Family Talk Time
Many of us know the motto, “Honesty is the best policy.” Is that always true? Is there a time when it may not be true?
Have you ever worried about telling the truth because it would get you into trouble? What did you do?
What does it mean to trust someone? Can you trust someone who has lied to you? Why or why not?
Talk about the difference between fact and fantasy using a story or a movie as an example. How do you know the difference?
In one famous story, Rabbi Hillel and Rabbi Shammai were asked what one should say to a bride who is not very attractive. Shammai opted for truth while Hillel said, “What a beautiful and graceful bride!” (Ketubot 16b) The sages agreed with Hillel, but was he telling the truth? Is there ever a time when it is ok to lie?
A Story for Shabbat: ‘One Hundred Rubles’
— from “Brainteasers From Jewish Folklore” by Rosalind Chaney Kaye
The Czar of Russia learned the answer to a difficult riddle from a poor Jewish farmer working in his fields. He paid the farmer a ruble to keep the answer a secret.
“Swear,” he said, “that you shall not breathe a word about it until you have seen my face again a hundred times.”
The farmer took the ruble and promised. The czar then challenged his ministers to solve the riddle within 30 days.
The ministers all thought they were quite clever, but as the days passed, they began to get desperate. Then one of them remembered seeing the czar whispering with the old farmer. The minister had no trouble finding the farmer, but the farmer refused to tell him the answer.
“However,” added the poor farmer, “if you are able to pay me 100 rubles, then I will tell you.” The minister readily agreed, and the farmer gave the answer.
When the czar learned the answer to his riddle was the talk of the palace, he knew the old farmer had betrayed him, and had him arrested. The farmer was brought before him. “Your Czarness,” he protested, “I did not break my promise.”
How could the farmer have told the secret without breaking his promise?
The farmer had indeed seen the czar’s face 100 times … stamped on each ruble the minister had paid him.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.