Allen S. Maller

What is more important: TRUTH or love? Simchat Torah’s answer

What is the primary and most important value in life? For centuries Greek philosophers mislead most Christian, Jewish and Islamic theologians with the Greek philosophers doctrine that the must important value in life was TRUTH. But if you study the Sacred Scriptures of all three Abrahamic religions you will see that charity, compassion, kindness. hope, awe and love are stressed much more than truth.

The Midrash relates that when God was about to create humankind, the angels formed two factions. Love said: ‘Let him be created, for he will do acts of love.’ Truth said: ‘Let him not be created, for he will practice deception.’ Righteousness said: ‘Let him be created, for he will seek justice.’ Peace said: ‘Let him not be created, for he will be always be involved in verbal disagreements and controversies.’

What did God do?  He seized truth and hurled it down to earth; because among these four, the least essential is Truth. Righteousness, Peace, and Love are central to our Abrahamic faith.

As for the question of TRUTH, we must put it aside as unknowable without the help of the other factors; and act with kindness and love as our guide. For TRUTH spoken with self-righteous arrogance is never God’s TRUTH

The Talmud states that when Sarah heard the three angels prophecy that by next year she would give birth, she laughed to herself, and said (Gen. 18:12): “Now [after] I am withered, am I to have enjoyment—with my husband [being] so old?” the rabbis discerned that when Sarah responded, she says (v. 12): “with my husband so old,”.

But when God repeats her statement to Abraham in v. 13, God says: “old as I am” (i.e., Sarah referred to her own old age). This teaches us the greatness of peace: for God changed Sarah’s words, for the sake of peace between husband and wife (Bava Mezia 87a).

Even in issues of Jewish law TRUTH comes in second place. The Talmud (Eruvin 13b) states that contending interpretations of religious texts are both the words of the living God. “Rabbi Abba stated in the name of Samuel: For three years there was a dispute between the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel, the former asserting, “the Halacha (legal ruling) is in agreement with our views,” and the latter contending, “the Halacha is in agreement with our views’.

Then a bat kol (heavenly voice) announced, “ Both (views) are the [true] words of the living God, but the Halacha is in agreement with the rulings of the School of Hillel.”

Since, “both are the words of the living God,” what was it that entitled the School of Hillel to have the Halacha fixed in agreement with their rulings? – Because they were kindly and modest, they studied their own rulings and those of the House of Shammai. Not only that, but they stated the opinion of the School of Shammai before they stated their own opinion.”

Another section of the Talmud (Megillah 15-16) does not limit Divinely approved disagreements and differences to just two sides of an issue. Discussing a verse in the book of Esther when Esther says, “Let the king and Haman come to my banquet” (5:4) the question is asked; “What was Esther’s reason for inviting Haman?

R. Eleazar said: she set a trap for him. R. Joshua said: she had learned in her father house “If your enemy is hungry give him bread to eat” (Proverbs 25:21) R. Meir said: so Haman would not plot a coup. R. Judah said: so no one would suspect Esther was Jewish. R. Nehemiah said: so the Jewish people should not depend on her and stop praying. R. Jose said: so she could keep her eye on him. R. Joshua ben Korha said: she thought—I will encourage Haman so the king will be enraged and kill us both. R. Eliezer of Modi’im said she made the king jealous of Haman and she also made the princes jealous of him.

When Rabbah ben Abbuha later came across Elijah the prophet, he asked him: Which of these (eight different) reasons in TRUTH prompted Esther to act as she did? Elijah replied: All of them. All the reasons given by the Rabbis are correct.

People often have mixed motivations in any action, so it is wise not to judge the motivations and intentions of others to quickly or to simply. The rabbis believed that all future developments within Jewish law that future rabbis would find, were already there; hidden seeds within the original text.

Thus, although in many areas of Jewish religious life, Orthodox Judaism seems very remote from Biblical Judaism, it really is not further away than many Supreme Court decisions that are supposed to be based on the Constitution.

For example, the Supreme Court maintains that there is a Constitutional right to privacy, but it is not literally written in the constitution. The Supreme Court rather derives the hidden seeds of a right to privacy from the Bill of Rights explicit limits to government interference in a citizens private life. From a Jewish hermeneutic perspective, this is an inspired insight from the constitution’s regard for the civil rights of all Americans.

Religious fundamentalists, who usually take Scripture literally and simplistically, always have problems with the obvious development of their religious tradition over the centuries. They often call these developments; deviations, distortions and even degenerations. They believe that only the behaviors and understandings of the first few generations of believers are correct.

But all religions that have a history of more than a few centuries, have had to rely on a variety of interpretations to met the changing circumstances of human history, and that is why they are still alive today.

Indeed, it is the ability of Sacred Scriptures to inspire people who live in very different circumstances from the original group of believers, that provides evidence that the original texts are much more than simply human creations.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 850 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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