Returning to Truth in Our Nation and World

In this Jewish New Year, we find ourselves in a world shaped by leaders who have forgotten that their authority … Continued

In this Jewish New Year, we find ourselves in a world shaped by leaders who have forgotten that their authority is founded on a commitment to Truth. By Truth, I refer to a religiously-informed value, what our rabbis call “Chotmo shel haKadosh Baruch Hu,” the seal of God: Reality as it is without our deceptions or stories or half-truths. The Face of the Divine is always right before us in the unfolding of the simple Truth, in a world that is “good” in its deepest essence. Our economy has faltered and our entanglements in Iraq and elsewhere have come about because time and again we have allowed our leaders, and allowed ourselves, to obfuscate Truth. We have blurred the lines, we have fudged the numbers, we have lulled ourselves into a false sense of complacency behind comforting lies we have told ourselves in order to get through the day.

The ancient sages of Judaism have exhorted us to found a society that is never in denial of Truth, that never avoids the suffering of society’s weakest members, that never turns a blind eye to the consequences of unethical behavior. Somehow these values have fallen away among our most critical world leaders. As a rabbi, I am struck by a decline in religious institutional affiliation among the younger generation of Jews and their Protestant and Catholic peers. I am seeing a younger generation who has only known world leadership that lacks integrity, and who believe that in this global world, no Truths can ever be upheld anymore. I am seeing a world where not only secular leaders, but religious leaders as well have failed to communicate a message that Truth is not the enemy of faith, that the pursuit of Truth, however unknowable that Truth ultimately may be, can heal this very broken world.

Our Presidential candidates are indeed right: we need to embrace change. In order to do that, we need religious and secular leaders who join together to seek Truth. We need leaders who, unlike fundamentalists, understand that Truth is not the “problem” to be avoided, but the source of all solutions.

In Judaism, our greatest visionary leaders were always those who weren’t afraid to see the Truth as it is. Most of us think that true visionaries are people who can see what ‘could be.’ But that’s not exactly right. Moses looked into the burning bush and saw God’s Presence that can never be consumed, even in the midst of flames. Rabbi Akiva looked at the ruins of the destroyed Temple in Jerusalem and was moved to laughter because he saw that even in devastation, the seeds of renewal and redemption were right there in front of him. It’s more accurate to say that most of us aren’t really able to see what’s True, and it takes a ‘visionary’ to help the rest of us see what has been the Truth all along. It takes a visionary to remind us that we must reject our own propensity to deceive ourselves and to face the world bravely as it is.

It’s not just a matter of finding leaders who have personal integrity. It’s about leaders who have the courage, humility, and faith to believe that Truth is always the greatest teacher of where to go next–not our egos, not our political platforms or our institutional agendas. We need leaders who can see the teaching, the wisdom, the insight borne of all Reality, no matter how frightening that Reality may seem at first. In so doing, our leaders can teach us that the simple Truth is kinder than we fear! This is the truest expression of faith. The Truth contains all the answers, all the seeds of renewal that we have been vainly searching for all along in our stories and in our well-meaning lies. The renewal that we seek in our faith communities, in our political process, in our whole world, lies in opening our hearts to the Truth.

Gil Steinlauf is head rabbi at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington D.C.

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  • ASTORIA

    And I am struck by how similar our yearnings are Rabbi- despite the diiferent religious coverings we may display outwardly.

  • Paganplace

    ” ASTORIA Author Profile Page:And I am struck by how similar our yearnings are Rabbi- despite the diiferent religious coverings we may display outwardly.Maybe, Victoria, ….it’s not about the words.

  • observer12

    Bonsoir Farnaz!How beautiful the passage you posted is! Is it from the Talmud? Can you tell me, qui est ce crétin dément, Astoria? Peut on être débarrassé de lui?ObserverPS. How are things going with your Pakistani friends?

  • ASTORIA

    Yes, that’s the point- the yearnings transcend words- and dig into the heart of our common humanity.

  • Farnaz2

    Observer:”How beautiful the passage you posted is! Is it from the Talmud?Can you tell me, qui est ce crétin dément, Astoria? Peut on être débarrassé de lui?PS. How are things going with your Pakistani friends?”To answer your first question, yes, it’s from the Talmud. As for your second and third questions, (1) I don’t know and (2)I don’t think so. Fortunately, whatever Powers may or may not be have given us the ability to disregard, no?To answer your final question, not good. One is currently in Jerusalem on business, and has emailed me from there. He’s at a loss. Despite Pakistan’s anti-Jewish racism, he is positioned in such a way that he could bring his family to Israel, and the Israeli government would allow him to stay there for as long as he wanted to. (It’s a long story, and I can’t say more.)He’s actually considering this, since for a number of reasons, he doesn’t want to live in the US, even for a few months, although he certainly could. My guess is that he will return to Pakistan when he finishes his business and stay there.Another friend is considering the possibility of leaving in January and living either in New York or in New Haven for awhile. None of my friends wants to live permanently outside of Pakistan, but they are worried. It’s not a good scene there, Observer. I can only hope to God it straightens out and that we don’t do anything to make it worse.Hope all is well with you, and have a good night!Farnaz

  • DMZ1

    I hate to break into this little love fest with a different view, but, intellectually, I have no choice.Truth has one denotative meaning and one meaning only. Truth is something that one can demonstrate empirically. Nothing else is truth. Now, there is faith, belief, etc., but none of those has anything whatever to do with truth.Anti-semitism, anti homosexual bigotry, demonization of the other, etc. are all religiously informed values, but all of these are filth not truth. Every time someone decides that their view or belief or faith is truth, people like me get screwed. No thanks.Find a different word. The word truth doesn’t fit with any supernatural worldview.

  • mlev1

    Hi Gil,Its Maayan. Very nice article. Happy holidays