Week of November 24

Lies, Deception, Honesty, and Truth

These are the issues that dominate our parhsa Toldot this week, and they are among the most pertinent issues in personal and social existence. What I always remark upon when I consider the matter of truth and lies is how clear we are about which is good and which is bad and how challenging often is the application of these categories to the situations in our lives.

One feature of me that I'd like you to know about is how much I dislike cliches. The matter of truth and lies often is susceptible to the seduction of cliches. Occasionally, I'll meet someone who forewarns me, "I'm someone who tells it like it is;" or they'll say "I'm a straight shooter." These descriptions fall under the rubric of seeking to be truthful. What they end up doing, in my experience, is reminding me that even truth has conditions. Being sensitive to someone else's feelings or confusing bluntness for honesty also possess value.

Unlike truth, lying is undoubtedly bad. Yet even here, one can find instances in which lying can be what is right to do. Imagine you worked in the Underground Railroad during the 1850's, and slave-catchers came to your door asking whether any runaway slaves were in the home. Telling the truth would return those who are on their way to freedom to bondage.

Or consider a more mundane and familiar situation. You see an acquaintance while leaving the supermarket, and she asks, "How are you doing?" In truth, you're feeling crumby, but instead you do as nearly all of us do, following the convention of not revealing the depths of our feelings in casual conversation.

Discussing the complexities of truth, lies, deception, and honesty should not however erode our sense that these are absolutes. Truth and honesty are good. Deception and lies are bad.

One arena, in particular, that concerns me that is related to this topic is how Israel is discussed in the public realm. Israel is regularly defamed, its actions distorted, its origins lied about. Here, the lack of truth is so glaring and so dangerous that we have every right to be outraged. Every day, we should try to do what we can to make sure that the truth about Israel is better known. That means touting Israel's accomplishments and also correcting distortions. None of us can shirk the responsibility of defending the truth that Israel is a beacon of hope to the world and the bulwark of world Judaism.


Only two experiences can completely transform a person's vantage point on life: birth and death. Fortunately, what has changed my life of late is birth. My son Aviv is now a little over a month ago. Looking at him and holding him has transformed my way of looking at everything and everyone. Simply the idea that we all started as he has started, small and in need of care, changes my whole way of looking at other people and creates the possibility of feeling greater compassion for others. In addition, the feelings that seeing my son evokes reminds me that each parent feels these incredible feelings when holding or gazing upon their child. With so much evidence of wickedness on a daily basis, this continual reminder of what is good is most welcome. I suppose what I would describe I am feeling that I never could before is a holistic sense of life. Experiencing a newborn come into the world is a reminder about the origins of life, and that is invigorating and connects me to the God of Creation.