Rabbi David Weissman
Most of us are familiar with the Hebrew word for truth - emet - or in Ashkenazic Hebrew -emes. But there are many aspects to truth. There are many ways to approach truth.
One way is simply to deny the truth - to relate to others something which you know isn’t true. Someone who does this is a liar.
Another way is to be silent when the truth should be spoken. Sometimes we’re present when another person says something which we know is blatantly untrue, but we remain silent. We don’t want to make waves or cre-ate a confrontation. This is the way of the coward.
At the other end of the spectrum is the cruel use of the truth, which involves harshly and unfeelingly pro-claiming the truth when we should be silent. We shouldn’t always feel free to say whatever is on our minds. Sometimes we have to forego saying what’s on our minds in order to avoid hurting someone else’s feelings. A child speaks whatever is on its mind. But sometimes a mature, adult person has to hold back and not say what’s on his mind in order to be sensitive to the feelings of others.
Another approach to the truth, which is quite common, is to twist and distort the truth. We see this in a lot of advertising copy, which doesn’t tell the whole truth, which just tells part truths and which oversimplifies in order to sell a product. We also see this in political campaigns when political ads only tell half truths or over-simplifications of the truth in attacking a candidate’s opponents. We also see it in both criminal and civil trials in which attorneys for each side just try to present that part of the truth which promotes the interests of the side they are on.
And I think that religious fundamentalists will often twist and distort little truths in order to promote what they consider to be a big truth. Both the Jewish Bible and the Christian New Testament contain some contra-dictions and material which is very difficult to justify as being accurate or ethically and morally acceptable based on today’s standards. Yet, a fundamentalist who believes that everything in the Bible is the word of God will often distort the plain meaning of biblical passages as a way of making it seem that those passages are true and valid. In order to justify the big truth - his belief that the entire Bible is the word of God- the fundamental-ist will distort and twist parts of the Bible which obviously are not valid in order to make them appear to be true.
So what should our attitude toward truth be? Well, no one can be absolutely truthful all the time. There are times when it’s best to be absolutely truthful and there are times when we sometimes have to shave the truth a bit. But it’s important for us to know the difference. And if we’re not always truthful with other people we should at least be truthful with ourselves. Someone who really has a problem is the person who keeps lying to himself and doesn’t even realize it.