Truth vs. Falsehood from a Jewish Perspective

(Originally posted 4.28.08. Date switched to today's date, as we would like to express and emphasize the importance of truth at this particular point in time):

In a revealing 1991 book about what America actually believes when questioned anonymously, the authors conclude, based on the evidence, that "lying has become an integral part of the American culture, a trait of the American character. We lie and we don't even think about it. We lie for no reason.... And the people we lie to the most are those closest to us." (Jim Patterson and Peter Kim, The Day America Told the Truth, pg. 7) If this conclusion even remotely reflects the current American value system, then lying is clearly rampant in American society.

IMPORTANCE OF TRUTH IN JUDAISM:

Truth is not just an important Jewish quality. It is called the seal of God (Shabbat 55a), the emblem by which God is known, based on the Torah verse (Exodus 34:6) that informs us that this is one of God's characteristics. Truth is one of the three pillars upon which the world continues to exist (Avot 1:18). He who speaks truth will live in the tent of God Himself (Psalms 15:2).

God abhors falsehood (Psalms 119:163), and King David asks that he be placed on a path far from falsehood. One of the things God absolutely hates is a "false witness who breathes out lies." (Proverbs 6:19) Falsehood is the only sin in the Torah in which a person must actively run away. (Exodus 23:7). For anyone who lies, it is as if that person has worshipped idols. (Sanhedrin 92a). Why is this so? Because without truth, there is no foundation of belief and there can be no true belief in God.

The letters of the Hebrew alphabet themselves attest to Jewish concepts about truthfulness and lying. The verse (Proverbs 12:19) states that truth is established forever, while a lie is only momentary. The Talmud (Shabbat 104a) amplifies this by stating that the letters of the Hebrew word for lie, "sheker", Shin, Kuf, and Resh, support this view. All these three letters have no physical base like many of the other Hebrew letters, as none of the three letters has even two points upon which to rest, but only one point. This symbolizes that a lie has not foundation, no basis on which to continue to exist. The Hebrew word for truth, "emet," on the other hand, with the letters Aleph, Mem, and Tuv, all have either two points to rest on or a base, symbolizing that truth DOES have a solid base on which to stand. It has been said that one who tells the truth need not have a good memory since a person does not have to remember what he or she said, but a liar must remember every statement and must continually cover up.

This same concept, a lie's weak foundation versus the truth's strong foundation, is also demonstrated by the placement in the Hebrew alphabet of these same Hebrew letters (Shabbat 104a). The three letters for a lie, Shin, Kuf, Resh, are next to eachother in the alphabet, all squeezed in one area, with little foundation, while the Hebrew letters for truth, Aleph, Mem, Tuv, are spread out from the beginning of the Aleph Bet until the end. They are the first letter, the middle letter, and the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, showing that TRUTH HAS THE STRONGEST FOUNDATION OF ALL.

from: "Truth & Lying" - Ch. 67, pg. 291-296 - From the Jewish Encylopedia of Moral & Ethical Issues by Rabbi Nachum Amsel



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