Monday, November 28, 2016

Truth sprouts from the earth (i)


“Truth shall sprout from the earth”
Psalms 85:12

The mysterious verse, “Truth shall sprout from the earth” has been interpreted in various ways. For some, the verse implies that textual knowledge cannot substitute real life experience. Only experience can reveal a concept’s limitations, context, and potency. In this vein, the chassidic master, Reb Simcha Bunim of Pshischa, once quipped about the knowledge of a certain mystic, “He has studied the map of Paris but never walked its streets!” Having studied a map, one may know the location of every street by heart. Still, it would not be wise to ask him for directions since he can’t tell how beautiful, safe or congested any given route is. Only one who has walked the streets can offer sound directions. Along tese lines our sages teach, “There is none wiser than he who learns from experience.”[1] In essence, Reb Simcha Bunim was unimpressed with the knowledge of this particular mystic because it did not ‘sprout from the earth’. Unaccompanied by real life application, it lacked the element of truth.   

The Kotzker Rebbe had a different interpretation. According to him, just as the potential of a seed to become a plant is actualised when the seed is sown in the earth, one’s potential to be truthful and objective is only realized after one figuratively lowers the self to the earth in humility. This theme is echoed in the prayer, ‘Let my soul be as dust before all; open my heart to Your Torah’. Only after egoism is reduced can one study Torah with truth, that is, unclouded by the bias of self-interest.[2] 

            Mumbaz, an aristocratic convert to Judaism during the Talmudic period, used this verse in another way.[3]  During prolonged famine, Mumbaz, out of exceptional generosity, exhausted his personal treasury to provide the community with relief. His family complained, “Your father gathered treasure and built upon his father’s treasure, but you are squandering it all!” He retorted, “My father hid the treasures below [in this world]; I am hiding them above [in Heaven]…He hid them where they can yet be stolen, while I am hiding them where they cannot be stolen…for ‘Truth shall sprout from the earth.’  Mumbaz meant that the way to merit true – eternal/Divine - goodness in the spiritual realm is by performing altruistic acts on earth - for “truth shall sprout from the earth.”          

Perhaps the most intriguing use of the verse is found in a Midrash describing the process that preceded the creation of Adam, the progenitor of humanity: 

‘As G-d was about to create Adam, four spiritual qualities disputed as to whether he should be created:
Kindness said, ‘Let him be created for he will perform acts of kindnesses.’
Truth countered, ‘Do not create him for he will be filled with falsehood’.
Righteousness asserted, ‘Create him, for he will perform acts of righteousness’.
Peace responded, ‘Do not create him for he will be filled with strife.”...
G-d cast Truth to the earth and said, “Truth shall sprout from the earth.”[4]

In the next few blog posts we will look at some of the mystical commentaries on this enigmatic Midrash.

[1] Akeidat Yitzchak, Parshiat Noach
[2] Likuttei Sichot, Vol. 30, p. 106 
[3] Babylonian Talmud Baba Batra 11a
[4] Midrash Genesis Rabbah 8:5

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