Yom Kippur: Honing Honesty

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12 Sep 2023
Yom Kippur

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of Naaleh.com

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

In the Viduy/Confession that is part of our Yom Kippur liturgy we pray to be forgiven for our sins of כחש וכזב/denial and false promises. As Rabbi Meislish explains, denial refers to lies about the past, while false promises refers to promises we made for the future that we did not keep. Denial/kachash, explains Rabbi Cohen slightly differently, is denying reality [the tactic used by criminals who insist they are innocent and did not perpetrate the crime], while kazav/falsity is insisting something is true when it is not [his alibi].

We are here dealing with all forms of falsehood, whether to others or even to ourselves. The world was created with emes/truth, but man has perverted it, and we must find our way back to truth. In this world of egregious falsehood in all areas of society, from politics, to media, to advertisements, we are tasked with again finding the straight path, God’s stamp on creation.

The very first words of the Torah bear witness to Truth. The end letters of those first three words, בראשית ברא אלקים are an anagram for אמת, as are the words at the end of the creation narrative that are part of our Friday night Kiddush, ברא אלקים לעשות. Our essence, our souls, come from that world of truth. It is on this point that the Vilna Gaon interprets the Book of Yonah, the son of Amitai/Truth as the journey of the soul being thrown down to the deep earth and the many dangers it faces.

 What elevates Man above all of creation? It is his power of speech. Thus speech is the actualization of man’s neshamah, his soul. Yet if we take away just one part of אמת/truth, the letter א, we are left with מת/dead. Without truth, life itself has no foundation, writes Rabbi Weissblum in Heorat Derech.

Each person is created with a unique set of attributes. Each attribute is two sided, partnered with either good or bad only in how it is used. The only exception is falsehood; it has no positive side. Rabbi Moshe Schwab notes the medrash for Parshat Noach. As all the creatures entered the ark in pairs, Falsehood wanted to enter as well, but it had no partner. Then it spied פחתא/destruction. The two made a deal, whatever falsehood would say, destruction would make sure it would fall apart. Thus the partners entered the ark as a pair and survived.

The world was created ex nihilo, from nothing. At first there was no world, only Hakodosh Boruch Hu. In order to create a world, Hashem needed to constrict Himself to make space for the world. In this sense, the world stands on nothing. It is merely a shadow of the Creator and has no real substance, continues Rabbi Schwab. Olam/the world is in truth olam/hidden, a shadow through which we can “identify” Hashem. When I say, “I serve Hashem,” I must realize that I, too, am but a shadow, a reflection of Hashem. [Just as a shadow is a shadowy image of its source, so are we created in the shadowy image of Hakodosh Boruch Hu. CKS] In contrast, sheker/falsehood insists the world and we exist in its own right. Even our emotions become distorted. Do we love or hate something or someone for itself, or for us? If we “loved” fish, for example, we would not eat it. If I hate a rainy day, it is because it is uncomfortable for me, but ask a farmer and he will disagree. Sheker makes me view everything egocentrically. As such, it is the basis upon which our yetzer horo relies.

Picture children playing a game of Monopoly. Little brother runs to complain that big brother swiped $200 [inflation] of his money. But this is only play money, used in a game, not “real” money. Do we understand that our money and all our assets are given to us for use in “the game of life,” for the purpose of serving Hashem and the ultimate goal of winning, of solidifying our relationship with Hashem Who created the “game” and the “players?” When will we outgrow the child within us?

The Sifsei Chaim cites Rav Yisroel Salant in stating that the desires of the world appear real, but they are really a figment of life’s imagination. What power actually drives us in life? Is it really Torah and serving Hashem, or is it really physical pursuits disguised as spiritual? It is not enough just to recite blessings before we eat; we must additionally realize that the food is meant to give us the strength and ability to serve Hashem properly, to emulate Him in caring for family and others even as we enjoy the food. We must return to the truth of our spiritual world, to internalize the idea that everything in the physical world is here to help us in the spiritual pursuits of serving Hashem. The physical world has no other reality; it is merely a hologram.

Emes/Truth and honesty is the foundation of all other positive attributes. It is easy for us to decide on a course of action and then rationalize it so that it seems to align with God’s will. But that is deluding ourselves, being dishonest and deceptive with ourselves, and blinding us to our flaws, preventing us from improving, writes Rabbi Kestenbaum in Olam Hamiddos. And the Artscroll Machzor points out that a parallel idea is in the earlier section of Viduy. We say, tofalnu sheker/we have accused falsely. When I see things things from the egotistical perspective of falsehood, we distort the world, often faulting others for our own errors.

Indeed, one category of people who will be denied receiving God’s countenance are liars, writes the Gemorrah in Sota. Why? As Rabbi Weissblum explains in Heorat Derech, those who denied truth in this world refused to connect with Hashem, Whose seal is Truth, while alive; they have no way of connecting to Him in the afterlife. We must be extremely careful in how we speak, even jokingly, that we are always truthful. This is especially the case when you commit to doing something you never intend to do, adds Rabbi Kalish in Step by Step.

Recognizing how we tend to slip in the category of truth is not easy, The Sifsei Chaim recommends playing back different scenes from daily life at least once or twice a week. Be honest about your motivation in the playback. It is easy to lie to ourselves and self righteously claim we were altruistic and not ego centered, for example, when in fact we hoped to be praised by others. Only by being honest with ourselves can we begin repairing the flaws within us.

Rabbi Cohen quotes the verse from Tehillim 100, “Hashem, save my soul from lying lips.” He then cites a fascinating insight from the Shem MiShmuel. If we were to write out the letters that form each sound of שקר, we would notice something interesting.  ש=שינ, ק=קוף, ר=ריש. While the first letters actually spell out שקר, the final letters spell out נפש/soul. What separates the two are the letters representing Hashem’s Name. By always putting Hashem first, we guard ourselves from falsehood, and the evil of our tongues.

This is a constant battle if we are not to fool ourselves, writes the Sifsei Chaim. How often do we say we don’t have time to join a shiur, or to help with a mitzvah, yet we spend a half hour surfing the web? How often to we say we cannot contribute to an important tzedakah, yet we’re spending money on silly upgrades?

These caveats are even more important in educating our children. If you tell your child to answer the phone and lie that you are not home, you are training him to lie. If you constantly exaggerate the truth, he will have a distorted sense of reality. “I’m so tired I could die,” creates a different impression that saying, “I’m very tired.” How about, “You’re killing me.” For one day, resolve to speak only truth in everything. If you say you will call in five minutes, do it.

Rabbi Scheinerman points out that these scenarios are not actual falsehoods. The liar is one who knows the truth but deliberately acts in ways that counter that truth. Alternately, it is the person who acts one way in public and differently in the privacy of his own home. That is falsehood.

This idea is most clearly conveyed by the construction of the Aron Kodesh, the Ark that contained the very Tablets upon which were written Hashem’s words of revelation. The Ark was covered both inside and outside with gold, teaching us that the inner person and his outer persona must be the same, that each must reflect the other. Fool neither yourself nor the external world. Don’t convince yourself that what you are doing is “for the greater good” when you hope to get a personal benefit. While acting in ways that benefit you may lead to acting altruistically in other situations, don’t lie to yourself in the process, and don’t give a false impression, writes Rabbi Kestenbaum. Be honest with yourself as well as with others. Only then will you be able to be better.

Rabbi Wolbe emphasizes that truth goes beyond speech. While our speech must be devoid of any treachery or deception, I must live my life also devoid of deception. My inner world and my outer world must be aligned and straight. My life must reflect the straight path Hashem has fashioned for me. Since I am in His image, His seal must be upon me, and I must live a life of honesty and truth.

Gmar chatimah tovah.

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