Monday, November 28, 2016

Truth sprouts from the earth (ii) : True kindness

‘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.”

Midrash Genesis Rabbah 8:5


Rabbi Yeshayah Horowitz (usually referred to as the Sheloh) raises a question concerning the above Midrash.[1] Usually, when a person has equal merits and demerits G-d tips the scales in favour of the merits. Why did G-d not apply this principle to the heavenly debate above and therefore create Adam without having to cast Truth to the earth?

Peace and Truth, he answers, were not just identifying two flaws in Adam that counterbalanced the virtues identified by Kindness and Righteousness.  Rather, they claimed that the arguments of Kindness and righteousness are not virtues but vices! In relation to Kindness, Truth claimed that human beings are incapable of true kindness, untainted by ulterior motives. Meanwhile, Peace contended that human righteousness often leads to strife and hostility. For instance, after a fair court case, the losing litigant commonly resents the winning litigant, even though righteousness was performed.[2] So the heavenly debate was not a case of two merits versus two demerits, rather, Peace and Truth claimed that Adam had no merit at all.

But, how does casting ‘Truth to the earth’ and ‘Truth shall sprout from the earth’ change things in favour of Adam’s creation?

In answer, the Sheloh draws our attention to the sequence of kind acts performed by G-d in the Torah. Towards the beginning of the Torah G-d creates Eve as a helpmate for Adam for the sake of companionship and procreation.[3] Later in the Torah, shortly after Abraham was circumcised, G-d visits him to comfort him and aid his recovery.[4] Towards the end of the Torah G-d buries Moses.[5] Following the theme that we are to emulate G-d, these three Divine acts of kindness teach us to help people get married, to visit the ill, and to bury the dead.[6]
The Sheloh deciphers a pattern in the order of these acts of kindness in terms of how much reciprocation the kinddoer can expect from his kind act. One that helps a couple get married is most likely to receive a gift of appreciation from them. In visiting the ill, reciprocation is less likely since the person is in poor health or possibly dying. Finally, in burying the dead there can be no reciprocation.

The order of these kind acts thus follows a pattern of increasing levels of authenticity in the kindness - and a reduction in the possibility of having ulterior motives. Particularly, in the act of burying the dead we find the purest form of kindness, and from it we learn that the other kind acts can also be pure of ulterior motives.

This theme is alluded to in the Hebrew word for truth, ‘Emet’, ﬡמת. Phonetically, Emet consists of two words: ‘Em’ meaning ‘mother’ and ‘Met’ meaning ‘death’. (The letter Mem in the middle is the end of one word and the beginning of the other). ‘Em - mother’ signifies the kind act of helping people marry and have children, while ‘Met – death/deceased’ suggests the kind act of burying the dead. The central letter ‘Mem’, which is part of both words, represents visiting the sick whose existence vacillates between life and death. 

We can now understand how ‘casting truth to the earth’ and ‘truth sprouting from the earth’ swayed the heavenly court. Initially, Truth argued that Kindness was not a merit because it is tainted with self-interest. By casting truth to the earth, G-d demonstrated to Truth that just as the act of burying the dead in the earth is not motivated by ulterior motives, the other acts of kindness can also be genuine.

The idea of Truth sprouting ‘sprouting from the earth’ is that when one sows a seed, it is from above to below. But when it sprouts a shoot it is from below to above –in reverse. Along these lines, when the three concepts hinted to in the word truth are read in the reverse order, buring the dead comes first, then visiting the sick, and finally helping people marry. The order shows on the idea that the genuine altruism in burying the dead reflects back onto the other kind acts, showing that they too can be authentic.

G-d’s testimony that Adam’s (humanity’s) acts of kindness can be genuine, rebutted Truth’s criticism of kindness. This resulted in both Truth and Kindness voting in favour of Adam’s creation.  Now that the numbers in the heavenly court, for and against Adam’s creation were equal, G-d applied His principle of tipping the scales in favour of the merits (where merits and demerits are equal) and  created Adam.     

[1] Horowitz, Yeshayah, Mesechta Pesachim, Perek Ner Miztvah, Sec.51
[2] Another example is where one helps people because it is the righteous thing to do rather than out of genuine love and care, often embarrasses the recipient by making him feel like an inconvenience.
[3] Genesis 2:22
[4] Genesis 18:1
[5] Deuteronomy 34:6
[6] Babylonian Talmud Sotah 14a

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