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True Emes

True Emes

One of the more difficult stories in Chumash, is the story of Yaakov and Eisav and the “Blessings” in this week’s Parsha. Yitzchak is about to give the blessings to Eisav. Rivkah feels that Yaakov is more deserving of the blessings, and she encourages Yaakov to disguise himself as Eisav. Yaakov listens to his mother and “tricks” his blind father into thinking that he is Eisav. Yaakov receives the blessings from Yitzchak. And the Parsha goes on to relate the rest of the story.

Listen to this Gemara Makkos 24a. The Gemara goes through the different Pesukim from Tehillim Chapter 15. Mi yagur b’ohalecha — who can dwell in G-d’s tent? One who walks in perfect innocence, and does what is right, and speaks the truth from his heart; who has no slander on his tongue, who has done his fellow no evil, etc., etc. The Gemara in Makkos takes each of these items and relates them to specific individuals. The expression dover Emes bilvavo — “speaks the truth from his heart; who has no slander on his tongue” is identified with Yaakov. What’s the proof Yaakov always spoke the truth from his heart? Yaakov said Bereishis 27:12 “Maybe my father will touch me and I will be in his eyes like a liar.”

What’s going on? This proves Yaakov is dover Emes bilvavo? This verse is actually the exact verse which should prove a lack of integrity?! Maybe prove from Parsha Vayetzei when Yaakov deals with complete honesty when it comes to dealing with Lavan. But this?

Reb Yissochor Frand tells over the following thought from Rav Kulefsky zt”l.

“We speak of ‘Give Truth (Emes) to Yaakov; Kindness (Chessed) to Avraham’. It is no coincidence that the “tests” given respectively to both Yaakov and Avraham had to do precisely with the attribute in which they each excelled.”

Avraham, the definition of Chesed is asked to slaughter his son. Everything is wrong with this picture. The reason for this is that Avraham was called upon to purify his attribute of Chesed. It must not come from just being naturally a “nice guy”. It has to be a Chesed that is worked on refined. Hashem is teaching Avraham that there are times when it is necessary for him to go against that attribute, so that when he will exert it will be pure, unadulterated, pristine Chessed.

It is similar with Yaakov Avinu. Some people could be very honest simply because they have no cunning. They are poor liars and if they do say a lie, it is written all over their faces. Yaakov was not that type of person. But when the situation demanded, when he was dealing with a Lavan, he told Lavan “I am your match in trickery. You cannot pull a fast one on me. Mine is not knee-jerk ‘Emes’, it is ‘Emes’ that has been refined and filtered so that it is true ‘Emes'”. Sometimes the attribute of Truth requires its master to act in a way that is not 100% truthful. Some situations demand that even a master of Emes act in ways that appear not to be Emes.

When someone comes into Shul wearing a dress or suit that’s not my style — do I tell them that because I want to be truthful? Of course not! Emes demands of us to compliment. It’s beautiful! You look great!

There is a story many years ago of an elementary teacher. Her name was Mrs. Thompson. And as she stood in front of her 5th grade class on the very first day of school, she told the children a lie. Like most teachers, she looked at her students and said that she loved them all the same. But that was impossible, because there in the front row, slumped in his seat, was a little boy named Teddy Stoddard.

Mrs. Thompson had watched Teddy the year before and noticed that he didn’t play well with the other children, that his clothes were messy and that he constantly needed a bath. And Teddy could be unpleasant.

It got to the point where Mrs. Thompson would actually take delight in marking his papers with a broad red pen, making bold X’s and then putting a big F at the top of his papers.

At the school where Mrs. Thompson taught, she was required to review each child’s past records and she put Teddy’s off until last.

However, when she reviewed his file, she was in for a surprise.

Teddy’s first grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is a bright child with a ready laugh. He does his work neatly and has good manners…he is a joy to be around.”

His second grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is an excellent student, well-liked by his classmates, but he is troubled because his mother has a terminal illness and life at home must be a struggle.”

His third grade teacher wrote, “His mother’s death has been hard on him. He tries to do his best but his father doesn’t show much interest and his home life will soon affect him if some steps aren’t taken.”

Teddy’s fourth grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is withdrawn and doesn’t show much interest in school. He doesn’t have many friends and sometimes sleeps in class.”

By now, Mrs. Thompson realized the problem and she was ashamed of herself. She felt even worse when her students brought her Christmas presents, wrapped in beautiful ribbons and bright paper, except for Teddy’s.

His present was clumsily wrapped in the heavy, brown paper that he got from a grocery bag. Mrs. Thompson took pains to open it in the middle of the other presents. Some of the children started to laugh when she found a rhinestone bracelet with some of the stones missing and a bottle that was one quarter full of perfume.

But she stifled the children’s laughter when she exclaimed how pretty the bracelet was, putting it on, and dabbing some of the perfume on her wrist.

Teddy Stoddard stayed after school that day just long enough to say, “Mrs. Thompson, today you smelled just like my Mom used to.”

After the children left she cried for at least an hour. On that very day, she quit teaching reading, writing and arithmetic. Instead, she began to teach children. Mrs. Thompson paid particular attention to Teddy.

As she worked with him, his mind seemed to come alive. The more she encouraged him, the faster he responded. By the end of the year, Teddy had become one of the smartest children in the class and, despite her lie that she would love all the children the same, Teddy became one of her “teacher’s pets.”

A year later, she found a note under her door, from Teddy, telling her that she was still the best teacher he ever had in his whole life.

Six years went by before she got another note from Teddy. He then wrote that he had finished high school, third in his class, and she was still the best teacher he ever had in his whole life.

Four years after that, she got another letter, saying that while things had been tough at times, he’d stayed in school, had stuck with it, and would soon graduate from college with the highest of honors. He assured Mrs. Thompson that she was still the best and favorite teacher he ever had in his whole life.

Then four more years passed and yet another letter came. This time he explained that after he got his bachelor’s degree, he decided to go a little further. The letter explained that she was still the best and favorite teacher he ever had. But now his name was a little longer. The letter was signed, Theodore F. Stoddard, M.D.

The story doesn’t end there. You see, there was yet another letter that spring. Teddy said he’d met this girl and was going to be married. He explained that his father had died a couple of years ago and he was wondering if Mrs. Thompson might agree to sit in the place at the wedding that was usually reserved for the mother of the groom.

Of course, Mrs. Thompson did. And guess what? She wore that bracelet, the one with several rhinestones missing. And she made sure she was wearing the perfume that Teddy remembered his mother wearing on their last time together.

They hugged each other, and Dr. Stoddard whispered in Mrs. Thompson’s ear, “Thank you, Mrs. Thompson, for believing in me. Thank you so much for making me feel important and showing me that I could make a difference.”

Mrs. Thompson, with tears in her eyes, whispered back. She said: “Teddy, you have it all wrong. You were the one who taught me that I could make a difference. I didn’t know how to teach until I met you.”

This is why the Gemara in Makkos proves from this incident that Yaakov was the embodiment of someone who did not have falsehood on his lips. Because when all is done, Emes means to say the right thing.

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