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What are you chasing?

By Rabbi Jonathan Tawil
August 19, 2015

A banker was vacationing in a small coastal village. While walking near a pier, he observed a small boat with just one fisherman. Inside the boat with the fisherman were several yellow-fin tuna. The businessman complimented the fisherman on the quality of his catch and asked how long it took to catch them. “Only two hours,” he replied.

The businessman then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish. The fisherman said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. “But what do you do with the rest of your time?” the banker asked. The fisherman responded, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a nap in the afternoon, and stroll into the village each evening with my wife where we relax and sing and I play guitar with our friends. I have a full and busy life.”

The businessman scoffed, “You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat and with the proceeds buy a fleet of boats. Instead of selling your fish to a middleman, you could sell directly to a processor. You could eventually open your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You could leave this small village and move to a big city where you could run your expanding enterprise.”

The fisherman asked, “But how long will this take?” The businessman replied, “15 to 20 years!” “But then what?” asked the puzzled fisherman? The banker laughed and said, “That’s the best part. You can sell your business and retire and move to a small coastal fishing village where you could sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take afternoon naps, stroll to the village in the evenings with your wife where you could relax, sing and play guitar with your friends. You would have a full and busy life.”

The fisherman smiled at the businessman, quietly gathered his catch and walked away.

What are you chasing after in life?
Some people are chasing money, others work, leisure, friends or spouses!
Yet the Torah interestingly informs us to chase something else.
The Sfat Emet explains that the only time the Torah commands us to chase, is in this week’s Parsha.
Tsedek Tsedek Tirdof – Chase after justice!
The Targum Unkelos translates this Pasuk to mean pursue “truth” (kushta).
We are taught to always pursue truth.
Why not simply tell us to speak the truth? What’s the idea behind pursuing truth?

We live in a world termed by our Sages as a false world – ‘Alma DeShikra.’
Rav Dessler ZT’L quotes the Zohar which explains that the original sin of Adam and Chava was due to a lie.
The snake approached Chava and said “Do you know why you can’t eat from this tree?”
She had no response.
The snake continued: “It’s because G-d ate from this tree and through this was able to create worlds. He does not want you to be in the same situation.”
Of course this was a blatant lie aimed at enticing Chava to sin.
But it was through this lie that Adam and Chava sinned and punishment was wrought on the world.
It is for this reason that this world which is influenced by the Yester Hara is called Alma Deshikra – a world of lies.
For us to get to the truth it’s a constant battle. It does not come easy and it’s
very difficult to achieve, hence we have to pursue it.

Whenever the Torah wishes to forbid something it merely tells us that it is forbidden. There is one instance in which the Torah goes out of its way to tell us that not only is it forbidden but one must also set a distance from it – “Bidvar Sheker Tirchak – distance yourself from a lie.”

Thus we must chase truth and run far from lies.

An old Midrash brings the story of Rabbi Shimon Ben Shetach (one of the earliest Tannaim) who was approached by a man in need.

He had grown up in a good home, but been badly influenced and had ended up joining a band of robbers. He led a life of sin, until one day whilst robbing, he came across a child whose fierce words penetrated his heart.

‘The wrath of the Almighty is turned to the doers of evil to erase their memory from the earth,’ shouted the child.

The man was shaken and eventually took leave of the band of robbers, resolving to find honest work and redeem himself.

However, as time passed he was tempted to return to his evil ways.

He was now approaching Rabbi Shimon to beseech him for guidance and help.

Rabbi Shimon commended him on his wish to do good and told him that his future success lay in promising never to lie again. ‘Keep from falsehood. That is the key!’ said Rabbi Shimon.

The robber was shocked: “Is this all you are going to tell me? Is there not more powerful advice and help to give?”

“You will see,” replied Rabbi Shimon. “If you but listen and keep from falsehood, you will not steal again.”

The man was still unconvinced, but he had no choice but to go to the room he rented and hope that Rabbi Shimon was correct.

That night, he grew very hungry and went to the apartment of the lady from whom he was renting his room. He knocked, hoping to get some food. Since there was no answer, he opened the door and walked in.

The apartment was empty as the family had left, but in the corner was a great wooden chest. Walking over to it and opening it, the man gasped as he saw a whole treasure of jewellery and other valuable items. Hastily pocketing a handful of valuables, he tip-toed back to his room and lay down on his bed.

He thought to himself;

“If the woman comes to me and asks if I was home during the theft, I will simply say that I was out and know nothing about it.”

Suddenly, however, the man remembered the promise that he had made to Rabbi Shimon that he would always speak the truth. How then could he lie to the woman and say that he was out during the theft? On the other hand, if he did not lie, he would become the primary suspect.

Then it dawned upon him. This was what Rabbi Shimon meant! It would be impossible for him to steal if he never lied. Jumping up from his bed, he ran back to the woman’s apartment and returned the property he had stolen.

“Bless Rabbi Shimon,” he said. “He is indeed a wise man. Now I know that if I but adhere always to tell the truth and never tell a lie, I will be saved from the sin of robbery.”

Such is the power of truth – and falsehood. It can change our lives for good or evil depending upon whether we are true or false to ourselves and to others.

When someone wants to sign an important document, their signature represents their presence.

The Gemara (Shabbat 55) tells us that the seal of the Almighty is Truth.

Hashem desires that we turn away from lies and pursue the truth.

The day that Adam and Chava sinned was none other than Rosh Hashanah. That is the day that we are all judged. We will stand in front of the Almighty and there will be nowhere to hide from our falsehood.

The original sin that caused so much sorrow to the world emanated from a lie. It is up to us to correct it via pursuing truth.

We must garner the strength and stamina to talk truth to all those around us.

We have less than a month to chase after something real – let’s get going!

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