Thursday, November 17, 2016

Definition i: Congruence


“Any Torah scholar whose inside does not match his outside is not a scholar”
Babylonian Talmud Yuma 72b

When instructing the creation of the Holy Ark to house the Ten Commandments, the Torah instructs, ‘You shall make the ark of wood...and you shall coat it with pure gold outside and inside.”[1] The ark represents the Torah scholar who contains Torah within himself. It was coated with gold on the inside and out to emphasise that “any Torah scholar whose inside does not match his outside is not a genuine Torah scholar”.[2]   A scholar’s external behaviour should reflect his internal knowledge; a code given so much weight by the eminent Talmudic sage, Rabban Gamliel, that he barred students lacking such integrity from his academy.[3]
In the first book of the Torah, Jacob’s sons exemplified such truth in their interactions with their brother Joseph. Concerning the resentment they felt toward him, the verse states, “They could not speak any words of peace toward him.”[4] Although this verse does not appear complimentary to the brothers, it actually demonstrates their virtue. Despite their ill-feelings toward Josef, they did not hide the truth through facade or pretence but transparently expressed what they harboured within.[5] This mode of being is called ‘tamim’ - wholeness or sincerity; no masks and no complexity; what you see is what you get.[6]  

A biblical character epitomizing the antithesis of this virtue is Jacob’s father-in- law, Laban. When Jacob arrived at Laban’s home, Laban, “ran to greet him, embraced him, and kissed him.”[7] Commenting on this verse, Rashi[8] explains that Laban ran to welcome Jacob under the assumption that he brought money and gifts. Noticing Jacob came empty-handed, Laban embraced him to check if he was carrying gold in his pockets. Finding no gold, he kissed him to see whether he was hiding jewels in his mouth.[9] Laban’s warm welcome was merely a guise for his greed. It is no irony that the name of this con-artist was Laban, connoting whiteness and purity, for it was on account of his deceptive nature that he bore such a misleading title.[10]             

King David distinguished between ordinary wrongdoing and deception when he exhorted, “Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from deception”[11]; associating evil with the tongue and deception with the lips. Ordinary evil behaviour reveals the wrongdoer’s intentions; thus, one who deliberately injures another reveals his ill-feelings toward him. Evil is therefore identified with the tongue, a single entity. Deceit, however, involves a split between presentation and intention; it is therefore aptly associated with the lips which are divided in two.[12]   

The Torah’s abhorrence of deception also explains why the pig is considered the epitome of non-kosher. There are two basic characteristics that render an animal kosher: split hooves, an external sign, and re-chewing cud, an internal sign.[13] The camel, for instance, is not kosher because, though chewing its cud, its hooves are not fully split. It lacks the external sign but possesses the internal one. The pig, however, is the opposite: it bears split hooves, the external sign, but does not chew its cud, the internal one. The pig thus signifies one who presents himself well but hides an agenda within.[14]   

The absence of the congruence dimension of truth also finds expression in subtle ways. After the passing of the saintly Rebbe of the Chabad movement, Shneur Zalman of Liadi, controversy ignited amongst his disciples concerning the identity of his successor. The two candidates were the Rebbe’s son, Rabbi DovBer, and the Rebbe’s pre-eminent disciple, Reb Aharon Strosheler. Some of the disciples decided to visit the court of Reb Aharon to assess his suitability as a Rebbe. At a Chassidic gathering, Reb Aharon delivered a mystical discourse during which he leapt onto a table in ecstatic dance. One discerning disciple observed that Reb Aharon continued dancing after he lost his original inspiration. He commented, “Reb Aharon is certainly holy, but a Rebbe he is not!” Holy because of his acute sensitivity to Godliness; but not a Rebbe who bares the seal of truth, whose every action perfectly reflects his inner feelings and beliefs.[15] 

In Chabad Chassidism, this aspect of truth is highly regarded, especially during prayer. While other Chassidic groups encourage prayer with a raised voice, song, and visible fervour, Chabad mysticism emphasizes prolonged contemplation on the nature of God and His relationship with the world.[16] A silent, motionless exterior, indicative of deep mental preoccupation, is greatly admired, while external expressions such as song and dance are only respected if they are spontaneous by-products of profuse contemplation. An affected display of enthusiasm or emotion is frowned upon.[17]Indeed, in the Chabad Chassidic past, the label Chitzon, external or artificial, was a most incisive insult, while pnimi, internal and real, a coveted accolade.  

The centrality of truth in Chabad philosophy is further underscored by the sentiment expressed by a Chabad Chassid during a private audience with Rabbi Sholom DovBer, the fifth Chabad Rebbe. The chassid complained that his Divine service is artificial and lacks truth. He then added, “And my complaint about lacking truth, it too lacks truth!” “Furthermore”, he exclaimed even louder, “My complaint about the way that I am complaining is also devoid of truth!” And so he continued until he worked himself into frenzy, fainted, and fell to the floor. The Rebbe then commented to someone present, “This, however, he meant truthfully!”

The Aramaic translation of the verse, “righteousness, righteousness you should pursue”[18] is ‘Truth, truth should you pursue.’[19] Commenting on the translation, Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa is said to have quipped, “With truth, truth should be pursued, and not with falsehood!” But how can one pursue truth falsely? Well, not everyone manages to serve God with truth, and at times, this can be quite comical. For example, a story is told about a young man from Peshischa who was granted a study in the home of his in-laws shortly after marriage. Attempting to impress them with his diligent Torah study he would start learning loudly whenever he heard movement outside his door. In actuality, the footsteps he heard were only those of a restless cat. Thus instead of learning Torah for the sake of Heaven, he ended up learning for the sake of a cat!

Nonetheless, explains the Kotzker Rebbe, one should not be disheartened if their service of God lacks truth. For the verse states, “And these words that I command you today shall be upon your heart.”[20] It states upon your heart rather than in your heart, because God does not expect us to maintain congruence of mind and heart all the time, and instructs us to continue learning Torah even if our heart is not with us. Eventually, one’s heart will open up and the words placed upon it will enter inside.’[21]  

This aspect of truth is intimated by the Hebrew word for truth, ﬡמת, which consists of the first, middle, and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The first letter is said to represent a person’s mind; the middle letter, feelings, and the last letter, behaviour.[22] This implies that truth is attained when one’s entire being is aligned and consistent. Furthermore, rearranged, the letters of the word Emet spell ‘Etam’- I shall be sincere or whole.[23]

[1] Exodus 37:12
[2] Babylonian Talmud Yoma 72b
[3] Babylonian Talmud Berachot 27b; Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Deiot 2:6 
[4] Genesis 37:4
[5] Rashi on Genesis 37:4
[6] Rabbeinu Bachyeh on Genesis 17:1; Sheloh Hakadosh, Mesechta Pesachim, Perek Torah Ohr, Matzah Ashirah Derush 39
[7] Genesis 29:15                                                                                                                                
[8] Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, known by the acronym Rashi on Genesis 29:13
[9] Ibid
[10] Borenstein, Shmuel, Shem MiShmuel Bereshit Vol. 1,Yeshivat Avnei Nezer Sochotchov,1992, pp.228-230
[11] Psalms 34:14
[12] Vilna Gaon on Proverbs 2:2
[13] Leviticus 11:3-8; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah ,79  
[14] Midrash Rabbah Genesis 22:13, Leviticus 13:5
[15]  Heard directly from Rabbi Mattis Kantor, Author of ‘The Ten Keys’ and ‘The Jewish Timeline Encyclopedia’
[16] Mindel, Nissan, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi Vol. 2, Kehot Publication Society, 1973, pp.16-18
[17]Schneerson, Y.Y., Likutei Dibburim, Vol.5, Kehot Publication Society, pp.104-105
[18] Numbers 16:20
[19] Targum Onkelus on Numbers 16:20
[20] Deuteronomy 6:6
[21] Oratz, Ephraim, ‘And Nothing But The Truth’ Judaica Press, New York, 1990, p.59
[22] Rabbi Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl, Meor Enaim, Netzavim
[23] Rabbi Dovber of Lubavitch, Derech Chaim, Kehot Publication Society, pp.7a-7b

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