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Torah Sparks

October 13, 2001/5762

Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Genesis 1:1-6:8 (Hertz, p.2; Etz Hayim, p.3)
Triennial Cycle Year I: Genesis 1:1 - 2:3 (Hertz, p. 2; Etz Hayim, p.3)
Haftarah: Isaiah 42:5-43:10 (Hertz, p. 21; Etz Hayim, p.35)

This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary

(1:1-2:3) The world is created in six days. The first Shabbat.

(2:4-25) The creation and, in particular, the creation of humanity. Adam and Eve are placed in the Garden of Eden “to till it and to tend it.”

(3:1-7) The snake tempts the woman to eat of the forbidden fruit. She persuades the man also to eat it. They become aware of their nakedness, and they make clothing for themselves from fig leaves.

(3:8-24) God’s first question of human beings: “Where are you?” God punishes the snake by making it crawl on its belly, and by the enmity of human beings; the woman by the pains of childbirth; the man by alienation from the earth. Expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

(4:1-15) Cain’s murder of Abel and God’s response.

(4:17-26) The descendants of Cain. The taunting song of Lamech. The birth of Seth, and his son Enosh.

(5:1-6:8) The ten generations from Adam to Noah.

This Shabbat's Theme: "The Elusive Search for Truth"

Study Text:

“In the beginning God created..." (1:1)

Hebrew = BeresheeT (,)... barA (t)...ElohiM (n)

If we take the last three letters (aleph, mem, tav) of the very first three words of the Torah (see above), we derive the Hebrew word, “emet”. So too, the first word of the Ten Commandments begins with the letter aleph (anochi); the first word of the Mishnah (me’eimatai;) begins with the letter mem and the Gemara of the Talmud begins with the letter tav in the word tanna. Thus, we learn that Torah knowledge begins with a search for emet truth, as it is written “Your word is truth from the beginning” (Ps.119:160) - A.Y. Greenberg, Torah Gems, p. 11.

Consideration of “Absolute Truth”

  1. The seal (signature) of the Holy One Praised Be He is truth. (Talm. Shabbat 55a)
  2. The world stands on three foundation stones: on truth, on justice and on peace. (Shimon ben Gamliel, Pirke Avot, 1:18)
  3. Keep far from falsehood... (Exod. 23:7) The Hebrew word for “falsehood” is sheker which is spelled shin, koof, resh. These three letters are next to each other in the Hebrew alphabet. Accordingly, we have to “keep falsehood afar” by shattering sheker when it comes together as is its natural tend ency. In contrast though, the three letters of the word emet - “truth” - are the furthest apart possible in the Hebrew alphabet. The aleph is at the beginning, the tav is at the end and mem is in the very middle. This teaches us that to reveal genuine truth, an extremely great effort on our part is required. (Author)
  4. The philosopher Emanuel Kant maintained that “any lie was an abomination or, as it were, an annihilation of the dignity of man”. Augustine and Aquinas held a similar view.
  5. "Truth even unto its innermost parts” (Motto of Brandeis University)

“Sparks” for Discussion:

Is there such a thing as “absolute truth”? What do you believe is absolutely true in Judaism? Prove it.

Next Question: “Shall We Always Tell The Truth?”

  1. You shall not steal, neither shall you deal falsely, nor lie to one another. (Lev.19:11)
  2. Does the halakhah prohibit all forms of lying? Not at all... Jewish tradition permits lying when the motive is altruistic... For example, it is permissible to lie for the sake of peace. When Sarah heard she would have a son, “she laughed to herself, saying, Now that I am withered, am I to have enjoyment - with my husband so old? God changed Sarah’s insulting remark when repeating it to Abraham: “Shall I in truth bear a child, old as I am?” (Gen. 18:12-13) Similarly, it is permissible to stretch the truth when praising an ugly bride at her wedding (Ketubot 16b-17a) and to make a false vow to a robber or murderer (Mishnah Nedarim 3:4). Lastly, in three things rabbis may deviate from the truth: regarding their knowledge (so as not to boast), regarding their sexual relations with their wives (out of modesty) and about their host (so that he will not be inundated with freeloaders) - Bava Metzia 23b-24a. (D. Golinkin, Responsa In A Moment, pp. 57-58)

“Sparks” for Discussion:

What are we to conclude? That truth is relative to the situation? What are your thoughts on “situation ethics”?

What is your opinion about... Telling the Truth to Terminal Patients?

  1. Author Joan Gould wrote of her husband’s struggle with cancer. One day, they went shopping for gifts and talked of the future. She asks the reader, “Was I lying to him if I let him think his illness was under control? Was I pretending if we stopped to have lunch and talkedof the future?” Late one night, she relates, he rose and got a pill from the bathroom, to help him fall asleep. When he returned to bed he left the bathroom light on. When she got up to turn it off, he said, “Please don’t. I’ll be in the dark long enough.”
  2. ...In theory, we may certainly conceal the truth from terminally ill patients if it is for their own good, since Judaism commands us to do everything to heal and preserve the life of the patient. The dilemma, therefore, is not “ may we lie to terminally ill patients”, but rather “is lying to terminally ill patients good or bad for them”... (Golinkin, ibid.)

“Sparks” for Discussion:

“Some things are better left unsaid”. Yet, shouldn’t the terminally ill be told the truth? Where do you stand on this matter for yourself? Would you want the truth?

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