Is it possible that Truth is different in different settings? Or is Truth always only one thing? (Or, can both of these be true?)
The Rabbis say “elu v’elu divrei Elokim chaim”—that these and those are the words of a living God. That when it comes to Torah, there are many truths—many perspectives on a concept that can all be words of the living God, words of Truth. But how are we able to realize that there are many truths if there was only one Matan Torah, and there is only one Torah? Certainly it ought to be that one truth supersedes others. But the Rabbis suggest otherwise.
In this week’s parsha we read of Yaakov leaving his home, running away, and breaking out of his natural habitat. Yaakov goes out into the wilderness and we learn that he sets up camp under the stars, resting his head on a pile of stones.
It says in Gen. 28:11
וַיִּפְגַּע בַּמָּקוֹם וַיָּלֶן שָׁם כִּי־בָא הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ וַיִּקַּח מֵאַבְנֵי הַמָּקוֹם וַיָּשֶׂם מְרַאֲשֹׁתָיו וַיִּשְׁכַּב בַּמָּקוֹם הַהוּא
“He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night, for the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of that place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place”
The Me’or Einayim, a commentary on the Torah by Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twersky, suggests a fascinating read on this verse. He suggests that the many stones underneath the head of Yaakov represent a special quality that Yaakov had, which was his ability to break down revelation—revealed Truths from HaShem—into many comprehensible pieces. Yaakov took the paradoxical incomprehensible and divine Truths, and brought them down to our world in all their variety. It is no coincidence then, that through Yaakov there is not only one progenitor of the blessing of God, but twelve. Twelve separate tribes with different personalities and perspectives, all reaching towards the same truth.
The Me’or Einayim suggests that it is only because our world appears divided and is experienced as separate that we see different perspectives on reality. But in truth our varied perspectives, even those that completely oppose one another, are all rooted in the same source. They are all part of the living God. And whether we realize it or not, we are all connected.
What this means is that Torah has many different perspectives that are all true, and at the same time that they are different, they are all really One. When we go back to the source of Truth, we begin to realize its oneness, and the oneness in everything.
Yaakov does this too, says the Me’or Einayim. Later Yaakov takes the separate stone that he placed under his head and makes it into a pillar. The Me’or Einayim says he made it into a pillar of unity. Yaakov shows the capacity to realize the ultimate truth of oneness, a oneness that shatters in order to enter into our lower level of consciousness.
This very deep idea offers insight into everything we do. When we realize with humility that our perspective is but one small percentage of all knowledge, we walk through the world learning from others, and begin to realize the beautiful range of perspective and possibilities that exist in this life.
For this shabbat, may we all find the humility of Yaakov, and remember that our perspective is just one, and yet it is also one of the words of the Living God. Divrei Elokim Chaim.
This essay is part of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah’s weekly parsha wisdom. Each week, graduates of YCT share their thoughts on the parsha, refracted through the lens of their rabbinates and the people they are serving, with all of us.