Buying Truth, Speaking Truth, Acknowledging Truth

Selections from traditional sources

Print this page Print this page

The following selections address the issue of truthfulness. The questions following each section can be explored in groups or by individuals. Reprinted with permission from Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.

Proverbs 23:23

Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding. 

Your Proverbs Navigator

1. How does one buy truth?

2. If one is not supposed to sell, from whom does one buy it?

Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 10a

Rabbi Hiyya Bar Rav from Difti taught them: "And the people stood with Moshe from morning until evening" (Exodus 18). Does it make sense that Moshe judged the whole day? When did he learn his Torah?

truth and factRather it comes to teach you that any judge who judges truthfully for even an hour--the verse sees him as if he were a partner of the Holy One in the creation of the world. Here it is written: "And the people stood with Moshe from morning until evening." and there it is written: "And there was morning and there was evening, one day."

Your Talmud Navigator

1. Is it in a judge's power to judge truthfully?

2. What does truth have to do with creation?

Values of Our Fathers

Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel said, "The world is sustained by three things, by justice, by truth, and by peace. As it has been stated: Speak every man the truth to his neighbor; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates" (Zechariah 8:16).

The Peace Chapter

Rav Muna said: These three things are actually one. When justice is done, truth is served and peace is achieved, as it is written: "These are the things that you shall do; Speak every man the truth to his neighbor; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates" (Zechariah 8:16).

Your Peace Chapter Navigator

1. How does Rav Muna understand the Mishnah in Values of Our Fathers?

2. Do you agree with his formula?

Values of Our Fathers Chapter 5 Mishnah 7

[There are] seven things [characteristic] in someone unrefined and seven in a wise person: a wise man speaks not before one who is greater than he in wisdom, and does not interrupt his fellow; and is not hasty to answer; he asks in accordance with the subject-matter, and he answers in accordance with the accepted decision; and he speaks of the first [point] first, and of the last [point] last; and concerning that which he has not heard, he says: I have not heard; and he acknowledges the truth. The reverse of these [qualities are characteristic] in an unrefined person.

Psalm 85

1. To the chief Musician, A Psalm for the sons of Korah.

2. (K) Lord, you have been favorable to your land; you have brought back the captivity of Jacob.

3. You have forgiven the iniquity of your people, you have pardoned all their sin. Selah

4. You have withdrawn all your wrath; you have turned from the fierceness of your anger.

5. Restore us, O God of our salvation, and cease your anger toward us.

6. Will you be angry with us for ever? Will you draw out your anger to all generations?

7. Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?

8. Show us your loving kindness, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.

9. I will hear what God the Lord will speak; for he will speak peace to his people, and to his pious ones; but let them not turn back to folly.

10. Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him; that glory may dwell in our land.

11. Loving kindness and truth meet; righteousness and peace kiss (confront) each other.

12. Truth shall spring from the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
 

13. Also, the Lord shall give that which is good; and our land shall yield her produce.
 

14. Righteousness shall go before him; and walk in the way of his steps.

Your Midrash Navigator

In the creation story it says when ELoHYM introduces the idea to create man, the Torah states, "And ELoHYM said, Let Us make ADaM in Our own image and Our own likeness." (Genesis 1:26) Note that the Name of God ELoHYM is plural and that ELoHYM refers to Himself as ;"Us;" and ;"Our;" The following Midrash identifies who God was talking to when God decided to create the first human.

Midrash Rabbah--Genesis 8:5

"Rabbi Simon said, "At the moment the Holy One chose to create the first ADaM the ministering angels broke up into factions. Some of them said, ;"Create him;" while others said, "Don't do it." Thus it is written: "Lovingkindness and truth will meet, righteousness and peace will kiss" (Psalms 85:11)"

Lovingkindness said: Create him, for he will do acts of lovingkindness.

Truth said: Don't create him, for he is drenched in lies.

Righteousness said: Create him, for he will do much Tzedaka.

Peace said: Don't do it, for he is essentially quarrelsome.

What did the Holy One do? He took Truth and cast it toward the earth. Thus it is written, ;"And truth will be cast to the earth;" (Daniel 8:12).

The ministering angels said: Sovereign of the Universe, why do You shame the leader of Your court? Let truth rise from the earth. Thus it is written, "Truth will arise from the earth." (Psalms 85:12)

Your Midrash Navigator

Notice that the narrative is actually structured by a creative reading of the two verses of Psalms 85:11-12. So these verses in Psalms are being used as a commentary on the verse in Genesis "Let Us make ADaM in Our own image and in Our own likeness."

1. What does it mean that we consider compassion and truth to be opposite?

2. How do we understand that people are the enemies of truth and peace and the friends of compassion and righteousness.

3. What is the significance of truth being cast to the ground and then flourishing from the earth?

4. Is "truth" sacrificed for "lovingkindness and righteousness?"

Babylonian Talmud Ta'anit 8a

Rabbi Ami said: The rains come because of those who keep their word. As it is written: Truth will flourish from the earth and righteousness will be observed from the heavens. (Psalms 85:12) Rabbi Ami also said: Come and see how great those who keep their word are. From where do we know this, from the rat and the pit.

Rashi [the medieval Torah commentator] on this passage: The rat and the pit--that killed two people. An incident where a young man gave his word to a young woman that he would marry her. She said: Who will bear witness? All that was there was a weasel and a pit. The young man said "Let the weasel and the pit be witnesses." Afterwards he forgot his promise and married someone else, and he gave birth to two sons. One fell in a pit and died and the other was bitten by a weasel and died.

His wife asked: what has happened that our children die these bizarre deaths? He then remembered and told her this story.

Your Talmud Navigator

1. What's the relationship between trustworthiness and "karma" in this story?

2. What does that have to do with rain?

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Rabbi Avi Weinstein is the Head of Jewish Studies at the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy in Kansas City.