The Growth of Truth, The Pursuit of Justice
By Mendel Weinberger
The Jewish month of Elul is the approach to Rosh Hashanah, the divine Day of Judgment; it is an auspicious time to reflect on the nature of truth and justice from our tradition.
"Truth sprouts from the earth and justice peers down from heaven" (Psalms 85, 12)
This poetic verse from the psalms raises several questions. First of all, why does truth sprout from the ground? Isn't truth something ethereal, otherworldly that came from G-d? Isn't it something we strive for but never attain? Why does justice peer down from the heavens? Isn't justice something we are here on earth to pursue with our human institutions of law enforcement?
The psalmist says truth is a very earthly quality. The earth doesn't lie. Nature is true. If you plant an apple seed in the earth, water it and care for it, an apple tree grows, not a pear tree.
Nature is conducted according to laws. If it rains, crops grow, if not they die. If there is food for the animals in a certain region, they live. If not, they move elsewhere or die. Truth is constant or it is not truth. A river that runs in the winter and spring, but dries up in the summer is called by the Torah a false river.
Truth is called the bariach hatichon, the middle rod that connects everything from the beginning to the end. It was that pole that connected the various partitions of the sanctuary and made it one wall, a structure of truth. The word for truth in Hebrew is emet. It consists of an aleph, mem, and tof the first, middle, and last letters of the alphabet. The patriarch Jacob personified truth. All his sons were righteous because there were no false values in him.
While it is true that nature doesn't lie, people do. Lies destroy the fabric of society, while truth strengthens it. In his personal life, a man's life is meaningful and stable if he lives and tells the truth, both about himself and about what he believes. Someone who says one thing and does another loses the respect of his children and peers and his life becomes a living hell. Truth is the most important value for our life on earth.
Our life on this physical plane is short. Before our manifestation on the earth our souls reside in heaven. And we return to heaven after we depart this world. During our sojourn in this life heaven peers down upon our souls. The is alluded to in the second half of the verse, "
justice peers down from heaven."
In kabbalah, this world is called almo deshikra the world of lies. This is because the light of G-d's omnipresence is hidden here. There often appears to be no justice or righteousness. The good suffer, the wicked prosper. Zedek justice, is the quality that remains above us, out of our reach. There is perfect justice in heaven. It is a value we strive for but never seem to attain. But we believe in it. Divine Providence makes things happen in accordance with the deeds of each person. Sometimes a person's life experiences are the result of his or her deeds in a past lifetime. Sometimes they are a test.
We don't really know why things happen. Perhaps a baby or a loved one who appeared to be so good dies. We might suffer pain, poverty, childlessness, or rebellious children. We might be let down by a friend. We feel it is not fair, not just. But that is from our perspective, called da'as tachton lower knowledge. From the higher perspective called da'as elyon, there is perfect justice on earth. Time and time again the Torah teaches us that if one errs or sins, he must pay the price. Yet repentance, return to G-d and our true self is always possible.
"Justice peers down from heaven". It is above us. Only the tzadik the righteous man who embodies divine justice, can fathom G-d's ways. The word shakef ( to watch) also means to mirror. Justice is a mirror for us to see ourselves and the fruit of our labors. The heavens are the transcendent aspect of our souls, yet they reflect back to us our true source in righteousness.
"Zedek, zedek tirdof" pursue justice relentlessly. Perhaps this is the source of the Jewish obsession with law and justice. Zedek is the ideal we strive towards. The Torah points the way, the righteous men model the behavior, and the soul awakens our awareness to the possibilities of higher consciousness. The messiah will bring the whole world to perceive the perfect justice of G-d. Then heaven and earth will unite, truth and justice will embrace, the veils that conceal godliness will fall away, and all men will live in peace and harmony.
Remember, when you follow the teaching: "Truth sprouts from the earth and justice peers down from heaven," you are insured to receive a good and sweet year.
from the September 2006 Edition of the Jewish Magazine