Emet–Truth, Hidden and Revealed

Sources from essay by Rabbi Lisa L.Goldstein in The Mussar Torah Commentary

Tol'dot is a trouble portion for those who are seeking guidance on how to live an upright, ethical life; indeed, it seems more attuned to those with a Machiavellian orientation toward getting what they want. Upon first reading, Tol'dot is an account of falsehood upon falsehood, deceit upon deceit, as the members of Isaac and Rebekah's family each act for their own personal gain.

-Rabbi Lisa A. Goldstein

(כט) וַיָּ֥זֶד יַעֲקֹ֖ב נָזִ֑יד וַיָּבֹ֥א עֵשָׂ֛ו מִן־הַשָּׂדֶ֖ה וְה֥וּא עָיֵֽף׃ (ל) וַיֹּ֨אמֶר עֵשָׂ֜ו אֶֽל־יַעֲקֹ֗ב הַלְעִיטֵ֤נִי נָא֙ מִן־הָאָדֹ֤ם הָאָדֹם֙ הַזֶּ֔ה כִּ֥י עָיֵ֖ף אָנֹ֑כִי עַל־כֵּ֥ן קָרָֽא־שְׁמ֖וֹ אֱדֽוֹם׃ (לא) וַיֹּ֖אמֶר יַעֲקֹ֑ב מִכְרָ֥ה כַיּ֛וֹם אֶת־בְּכֹרָֽתְךָ֖ לִֽי׃ (לב) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר עֵשָׂ֔ו הִנֵּ֛ה אָנֹכִ֥י הוֹלֵ֖ךְ לָמ֑וּת וְלָמָּה־זֶּ֥ה לִ֖י בְּכֹרָֽה׃ (לג) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יַעֲקֹ֗ב הִשָּׁ֤בְעָה לִּי֙ כַּיּ֔וֹם וַיִּשָּׁבַ֖ע ל֑וֹ וַיִּמְכֹּ֥ר אֶת־בְּכֹרָת֖וֹ לְיַעֲקֹֽב׃ (לד) וְיַעֲקֹ֞ב נָתַ֣ן לְעֵשָׂ֗ו לֶ֚חֶם וּנְזִ֣יד עֲדָשִׁ֔ים וַיֹּ֣אכַל וַיֵּ֔שְׁתְּ וַיָּ֖קׇם וַיֵּלַ֑ךְ וַיִּ֥בֶז עֵשָׂ֖ו אֶת־הַבְּכֹרָֽה׃ {פ}

(29) Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the open, famished. (30) And Esau said to Jacob, “Give me some of that red stuff to gulp down, for I am famished”—which is why he was named Edom. (31) Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” (32) And Esau said, “I am at the point of death, so of what use is my birthright to me?” (33) But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. (34) Jacob then gave Esau bread and lentil stew; he ate and drank, and he rose and went away. Thus did Esau spurn the birthright.

(יא) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יַעֲקֹ֔ב אֶל־רִבְקָ֖ה אִמּ֑וֹ הֵ֣ן עֵשָׂ֤ו אָחִי֙ אִ֣ישׁ שָׂעִ֔ר וְאָנֹכִ֖י אִ֥ישׁ חָלָֽק׃ (יב) אוּלַ֤י יְמֻשֵּׁ֙נִי֙ אָבִ֔י וְהָיִ֥יתִי בְעֵינָ֖יו כִּמְתַעְתֵּ֑עַ וְהֵבֵאתִ֥י עָלַ֛י קְלָלָ֖ה וְלֹ֥א בְרָכָֽה׃
(11) Jacob answered his mother Rebekah, “But my brother Esau is a hairy man and I am smooth-skinned. (12) If my father touches me, I shall appear to him as a trickster and bring upon myself a curse, not a blessing.”
(ז) וַֽיִּשְׁאֲל֞וּ אַנְשֵׁ֤י הַמָּקוֹם֙ לְאִשְׁתּ֔וֹ וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אֲחֹ֣תִי הִ֑וא כִּ֤י יָרֵא֙ לֵאמֹ֣ר אִשְׁתִּ֔י פֶּן־יַֽהַרְגֻ֜נִי אַנְשֵׁ֤י הַמָּקוֹם֙ עַל־רִבְקָ֔ה כִּֽי־טוֹבַ֥ת מַרְאֶ֖ה הִֽוא׃

(7) When the local leaders asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” for he was afraid to say “my wife,” thinking, “The local leaders might kill me on account of Rebekah, for she is beautiful.”

(ב) ידע ציד. לָצוּד וּלְרַמּוֹת אֶת אָבִיו בְּפִיו וְשׁוֹאֲלוֹ אַבָּא, הַאֵיךְ מְעַשְּׂרִין אֶת הַמֶּלַח וְאֶת הַתֶּבֶן? כַּסָּבוּר אָבִיו שֶׁהוּא מְדַקְדֵּק בְּמִצְוֹת (תנחומא):
(2) יודע ציד A CUNNING HUNTER literally, understanding hunting — understanding how to entrap and deceive his father with his mouth. He would ask him, “Father how should salt and straw be tithed”? (Genesis Rabbah 63:10) (although he knew full well that these are not subject to the law of tithe). Consequently his father believed him to be very punctilious in observing the divine ordinances.
(א) אנכי עשו בכורך. אָנֹכִי הַמֵּבִיא לְךָ וְעֵשָׂו הוּא בְּכוֹרֶךָ:

(1) אנכי עשו בכרך I AM ESAU THY FIRST-BORN — It is I! Esau is your firstborn.

(ה) אָמַר רַבִּי סִימוֹן, בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁבָּא הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לִבְרֹאת אֶת אָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן, נַעֲשׂוּ מַלְאֲכֵי הַשָּׁרֵת כִּתִּים כִּתִּים, וַחֲבוּרוֹת חֲבוּרוֹת, מֵהֶם אוֹמְרִים אַל יִבָּרֵא, וּמֵהֶם אוֹמְרִים יִבָּרֵא, הֲדָא הוּא דִכְתִיב (תהלים פה, יא): חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת נִפְגָּשׁוּ צֶדֶק וְשָׁלוֹם נָשָׁקוּ. חֶסֶד אוֹמֵר יִבָּרֵא, שֶׁהוּא גּוֹמֵל חֲסָדִים. וֶאֱמֶת אוֹמֵר אַל יִבָּרֵא, שֶׁכֻּלּוֹ שְׁקָרִים. צֶדֶק אוֹמֵר יִבָּרֵא, שֶׁהוּא עוֹשֶׂה צְדָקוֹת. שָׁלוֹם אוֹמֵר אַל יִבָּרֵא, דְּכוּלֵיהּ קְטָטָה. מֶה עָשָׂה הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא נָטַל אֱמֶת וְהִשְׁלִיכוֹ לָאָרֶץ, הֲדָא הוּא דִכְתִיב (דניאל ח, יב): וְתַשְׁלֵךְ אֱמֶת אַרְצָה, אָמְרוּ מַלְאֲכֵי הַשָּׁרֵת לִפְנֵי הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, רִבּוֹן הָעוֹלָמִים מָה אַתָּה מְבַזֶּה תַּכְסִיס אַלְטִיכְסְיָה שֶׁלָּךְ, תַּעֲלֶה אֱמֶת מִן הָאָרֶץ, הֲדָא הוּא דִכְתִיב (תהלים פה, יב)

(5) Rabbi Simon said: When the Holy Blessed One came to create Adam the first person, the ministering angels divided into various factions and various groups. Some of them were saying: ‘Let them not be created,’ and some of them were saying: ‘Let them be created.’ That is what is written: “Loving-Kindness and truth met; justice and peace touched” (Psalms 85:11). The Angel of Loving-Kindness said: ‘Let them be created, as they perform acts of loving-kindness.’ The Angel of Truth said: ‘Let them not be created, as they are all full of lies.’ The Angel of Justice said: ‘Let him be created, as he performs acts of justice.’ The Angel of Peace said: ‘Let them not be created, as they is all full of discord.’ What did the Holy Blessed One do? God took the Angel of Truth and cast it down to earth. That is what is written: “You cast truth earthward” (Daniel 8:12). The ministering angels said before the Holy Blessed One: ‘Master of the universe, why are You demeaning Your very seal? Raise Truth back up from the earth.’ That is what is written: “Truth will spring from the earth” (Psalms 85:12).

The Angel of Truth, of course, speaks the truth: we humans are indeed "entirely made up of lies." Look no further than our Torah portion and then at our own experiences. We, like Rebekah, Jacob, and Isaac, are profoundly limited in our perspective, in our aware-ness, in our understanding of our own desires. We make assumptions about others' motives all the time. How can we even begin to speak about truth?

It is not our fault that we cannot recognize the whole truth. According to the midrash, our inability to recognize the full truth is essential to the way we were created. Still, truth matters. The mid-rash suggests that truth is so important, so connected to the essence of divinity, that it— more than all the other qualities—is the divine seal, while at the same time proposing that perhaps it would have been better for humanity not to have been created given our inability to tell the truth.

-Rabbi Lisa L. Goldstein

It should be obvious to anyone who pays attention that the quality of truth is the vital force sustaining all Creation. ... Truth is contained even in the husks [k'lipot], and it is its force that sustains them as well. This is the mystery ... the teaching of the Sages, "Any falsehood that does not also have some truth in it will not in the end be sustained" (Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 35a).

-Rebbe Gedalya of Linitz, T'shuot Chein

Rebbe Gedalya is offering a very helpful teaching. When he speaks about "the vital life force," the chiyut, he is describing a fundamental Chasidic way of understanding God. In this understanding, God is not ultimately a character in the Tanach, but rather "the vital life force" that unfolds through time and space, supporting and renewing Creation moment to moment. When we say that truth is God's seal, it is another way of saying that truth is the essence of the life force itself, that there is a truth at the core of everything that exists.

However, sometimes the truth is hidden. Just as, according to the Lurianic Creation story," there are husks or shells that hide sparks of divine light, so, too, husks can hide the truth. However, that does not mean truth is not there. In fact, without truth, lies cannot exist.

-Rabbi Lisa L. Goldstein

Questions to Ask

  • Rebbe Gedalya of Linitz understands truth to be the defining characteristic of the life force of the universe. What does that mean to you? If you would suggest a different characterization, what would it be?

  • Find an example in your experience in which a lie contained a truth at its core. What kept that truth from emerging?