Dear Rabbi Fried,
I know you don’t use your column to discuss politics, and I’m not trying to pull you into what is still a very emotional situation throughout the country; but I am wondering if there are any Jewish lessons we can learn from this past very heated and sometimes not so nice election period?
— Cindy K.
Unfortunately, there were a number of things which transpired, some which continue to emerge, which we have Jewish lessons to learn from. To be more precise, there are Jewish lessons to be learned of how not to be from many of the things that were said and done.
I think we can focus on one central idea which was glaring during this period and spreads to many other areas in world politics — in ways we haven’t seen the likes of before.
That is the importance of Truth.
So much of the candidates’ debate time and air time in general was spent, not in the discussion of real issues, but in bashing one another and trying to show how what was said about each other was a lie.
This was not at all isolated to the candidates themselves. A. O. Salzberger Jr., the publisher of The New York Times, penned a letter to readers Friday promising that the paper would “reflect” on its coverage of this year’s election, after the paper was taken to task for demonizing Trump and his camp from the very outset, making Clinton look functional and organized and the Trump campaign discombobulated. (See at length “New York Times publisher vows to ‘rededicate’ paper to reporting honestly,” foxnews.com). My intent is not to defend one candidate or another, only that we need to recognize that a significant amount of information the electorate was fed was not necessarily the truth.
This, on the backdrop of a world body as significant as UNESCO voting, twice, that Jerusalem does not historically belong to the Jews, rather to the Muslim world, a world that came about thousands of years after Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were there and well over a thousand years after King Solomon built the Temple there. We are living in a world in which Truth is a rare commodity.
This is not a totally new problem. The Medrash relates that when God posed the question to the angelic court whether or not to create Man, the Angel of Truth voted he should not be created because he will be full of lies. We see that the potential to lie is greater than to tell the truth.
The Talmud explains this to be implicit in the very fiber of creation. The building blocks by which the world was created are the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. When one peers into the aleph-beis, the Hebrew alphabet, we unlock many secrets of creation. The word for “lie,” “sheker,” is spelled “shin kuf reish”; those three letters appear together in the Hebrew alphabet. Since they are close together, we learn that sheker, a lie, is very “close,” or easy to tell. Truth, however, which is “emet” is Hebrew, is spelled “aleph mem tav”; the first letter, the last letter and the middle letter. Those letters are as far apart as can be in the Hebrew alphabet. This is to teach us that truth is distant; one needs to work hard to stick to the truth and live by it, unlike a lie which is prevalent and very easy to live by!
That is why the Angel of Truth voted not to create a being who would be so liable to fall into a life of lies. (There’s an old Yiddish saying that, “if you tell the truth you don’t need to remember what you said!”)
If God chose to create us despite the vote of the Angel of Truth, knowing full well that He is creating a world where it’s easier to live by a lie than by truth, than God was creating Man with exactly this test in mind, the test of living by truth. God is referred to as “Elokim Emes,” the God of Truth, and one connects to God through Truth.
May we learn this important lesson from that which we saw, heard and loathed, during the election period and in the world around us, and strive to be the children of Jacob who manifested and was the pillar of Truth in the world; “titein emes l’Yaakov,” the Jewish people live by Truth.
Dear Rabbi Fried,