Message from Rabbi Dr Abraham Levy – Rosh Hashanah 5776
וטהר לבנו לעבדך באמת כי אתה ה’ א’ אמת.
Cleanse our hearts O God that we should serve you in truth, for you God are a God of Truth.
We shall be repeating this verse in the Amidah throughout Rosh Hashanah. In Jewish thinking, truth is an essential ingredient of all human relationships. Who is a truthful man? What is a truthful relationship? Truth involves keeping promises, saying with your lips what you feel in your heart. Truth requires fidelity and loyalty. Truth is the bond of trust between individuals and between God and man.
Truth is at the very centre of life and of religion; and yet it is a rare quality, difficult to acquire. It is for this very reason that we recite the following in our daily prayers.
לעולם יהס אדם ירא שמים בסתר ובגלו’ ומודה על האמת ודובר אמת בלבבו.
Man should at all times fear God in private and in public, confess the truth and speak the truth in his heart.
In private and in public – Truth between man and God
Confess the truth – Truth between you and your fellow man
And speak the truth in your heart – Truth between you and your inner self.
But sadly we live in a world when expediency and diplomacy make a sham of the truth. For, you see, expediency does not confess the truth and certainly does not speak the truth in one’s heart. And as for diplomacy, is a diplomat not a person hired to lie for his country?
Rav, the great Babylonian Scholar who founded the Academy of Sura in the 3rd century, seemed to have had an unhappy marriage. The relationship between husband and wife was tense. If he asked his wife to cook peas for lunch she would make lentils. And if he asked for lentils she would give him peas. When their son Hiyya grew up he said: Leave this to me. So if he knew that his father wanted peas he said: Mum, dad wants lentils. And so his father got what he wanted. Your mother is being nicer to me, said the sage. Not really replied Hiyya: I just ask mother to cook the opposite of what you want.
Don’t do that said father to son, for you are teaching your tongue to tell lies and that will pollute your inner self.
As Sir Walter Scott wrote, O what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive. And that my friends is the problem with expediency and diplomacy.
According to the Rabbis, there are many types of theft. One is stealing another person’s mind גנבת דעת by making him believe what is not true. Sadly, this is a symptom of the society in which we live. We see it in politics, in life and even in religion. And that is the problem we have to tackle, both as individuals and as a community, on Rosh Hashanah.
וטהר לבנו לעבדך כי אתה ה’ א’ אמת.
Cleanse our heart to serve you in truth for you, O God, are a God of truth.
Come on, we say, it is only a white lie. Sadly, we are all guilty of this. Not only do we kid others but, what is worse, we kid ourselves. It is all too easy to justify a white lie. After all, you get the lentils you want and not the peas you do not want!
It is true that the Rabbis do talk of a white lie – for the sake of peace and tranquillity (but never in front of children); but it must be a white lie that does not affect others. We always refer to the ‘beautiful bride’, for example. The trouble with a white lie is that, like white paint, it can often turn grey if not black. The lie can seep into the soul; it can destroy truthful relationships between us, when mutual trust disappears. In Thailand, the ‘land of smiles’, they are urged always to be nice and never to say what they feel so as not to upset anybody. Thailand has one of the highest murder rates in the world!
Let us strive to develop truthful relationships between each other, to enable God to have a truthful relationship with each of us. Let us live as the Torah commands us – to live a life doing that which is good and straight in the eyes of God and of our fellow men.
כי תעשה הטוב והישר………..
תחל שנה וברכותיה
May the New Year with all its blessings now commence
Rabbi Dr Abraham Levy OBE