Sivan: Emet (אמת) Truth

Sivan is the Moon of Receiving (May/June)
Sivan is the month of receiving both communal and personal revelations at Sinai on Shavuot.

Middah & Netivah

  • Emet (אמת) Truth 
  • Neviah (נביאה) Prophetess

Keys

  • Chesed (חסד) Loving-kindness
  • Tzedek (צדק) Justice

Counterweights 

New to Mussar or the Kesharim K’doshim approach? Read the intro first.


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Emet (אמת) Truth

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel teaches, Three things ensure the world’s survival: justice, truth, and peace, as it is said, “Speak truth, establish peace, and render honest judgments in your gates.”  

(Pirkei Avot 1:18, translation by Rami Shapiro – Ethics of the Sages)

Truth.  Since 2016, we have lived in a post-fact world and it’s hard to fathom the impact on us as individuals and as societies.  What is truth?  It is easy to mis-read the teachings on truth and say that we can never say that another is not being truthful and hold them accountable. What we can do, is acknowledge that a sick soul may be incapable of seeing what is an isn’t true.  

The Talmud teaches that truth is one of the three pillars that holds up the world and yet ew know that we live in a time where, once again, we not only allow our leaders to lie to us, but too many of us embrace the lies because they make us feel like we are bigger, more powerful, and “better” than someone else. 

In EverydayHoliness, Alan Morinis seems to be channeling the current mindset of many that saying whatever is on your mind at any moment equals “truth”: 

“Some people equate “truth” with speaking their minds, but speaking your mind may simply be articulating your unexamined prejudice or bias.” 

Maybe that is your momentary truth, but shouldn’t we all be seeking truth that can survive more than a fleeting moment? 

“Avtalyon teaches, Do not mistake words for truth lest you become exiled in cleverness where every well is poison, and all who drink from them will die, and thus diminish the Name of Heaven.” 

Pirkei Avot 1:11, translation by Rami Shapiro – Ethics of the Sages

In Mussar teachings, lying is understood a symptom of spiritual illness. For some it may be a minor cold, but I think we can see plenty of examples where it is a chronic spiritual illness that has utterly disconnected someone from their own soul.  Like many illnesses, it does not just affect the infected person. It is contagious and damaging to the world around the liar.  When we can’t trust what others are saying, then it breaks down our ability to trust anything – including ourselves. 

Rabbi Hillel encourages us to not only see the world through our personal perceptions — but rather to stretch ourselves spiritually to see it through others’ experiences.   

We choose our truth by the scope of our vision.

Lawrence Kushner, The Book of Words

It’s also fascinating and wonderful that “do no harm” supersedes the need to tell the truth in Jewish teachings. So being a jerk can’t be cloaked in a veil of “I was just telling the truth,” because the worst thing you can do is harm another person.  It is better to lie and say you are full, than insult your host’s cooking.  

Truth requires judgement, which requires a healthy soul to exercise that judgement. A commitment to truth, seems to offer up more opportunities for bechiramoments(choice points) than many other soul-traits in our life’s curriculum. Each time there is an option to tell the truth, shade the truth, or straight up lie – we have to think about what the best option is in the situation. Who benefits from each?  Who is harmed from each? What is our real motivation in telling the truth vs shading vs lying?   

Truth is also an exercise, a judgment, and a test. The goal is to live truth according to the guidance of your discerning heart, for the sake of the soul you are as well as the souls of others.

Alan Morinis, Everyday Holiness

In Mussar Yoga, three questions are offered for us to examine our speech as part of exercising judgement of truth.  Before offering up “truth,” ask yourself: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? 

I find the last one, “is it necessary?” To be really powerful and important.  Sometimes we are very hurtful under the guides of truth-telling in situations where it just wasn’t necessary – we just weren’t willing to hold our tongue.  And sometimes we are even less kind by not speaking out.  How do we know when to speak truth and when to hold back?  

Anyone who has prejudices and whose perceptions are colored by self-interest will never see the truth in any area in which his bias operates. Only when his bias is removed will he be able to understand the truth.

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler

In several readings on emet, there are reminders of another truth – that if you remove the letter aleph (אמת) from emet the word becomes death (מת) – met. Wise discernment about truth and how to wield it, are not just a spiritual exercise.  It is about life and death. When we lose track of truth as individuals, it becomes easier to lose track of it as a society.  Both as individuals and society, a loss of truth can lead to harmful paths that are not life-bringing, but rather death dealing.   

When Love and Truth meet, then Justice and Peace will kiss.

Psalm 85:11

As you discern what is truth and whether you should or shouldn’t speak it in a given moment, there are many possibilities to consider.  A connection to the holiday of Shavuot, which occurs during the first week Sivan, offers us a guide.  Shavuot is the holiday of revelation at Sinai.  We read in Exodus 19.18:

Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke,
for the LORD had come down upon it in fire;
the smoke rose like the smoke of a kiln,
and the whole mountain trembled violently.

Ex 19.18

There is a wonderful chant by R’Shir Yaakov that uses is drawn from this.

olam shanah nefesh (עולם שנה נפש)
v’har sinai ashan culo (והר סיני עשן כלו)
(space time soul. and the mountain was entirely smoke) 

Chant by Shir Yaakov

What is the truth of the revelation at Sinai, if we each heard in our own way?
olam = space
shanah = time
nefesh = soul

There are three words here and three letters to the word for truth (אמת).  Those three letters are the first, middle, and last letter of the aleph-bet.  Mussar teaches us that they provide stability, which is how we find truth — through how the three hold up.

The original Jewish geography, according to our mystical tradition, has three components–Place, Time and Soul (Olam, Shana and Nefesh). These are the basic dimensions in which we exist and interact with our world.

My Jewish Learning

Can we use olam, shanah, nefesh to help us better discern truth?  

  • Aleph Mem Tav 
  • Olam Shana Nefesh 
  • Justice Truth Peace 
  • Past Present Future 
  • Internal External Mythic 
  • True Kind Necessary 

Can we hold something as true, and know that someone else holds a different truth?  Where is the space in between?  

The signature of the Holy Blessed One is truth.
And Reish Lakish said: The letter tav is the last letter of the seal of the Holy One, Blessed be He, as Rabbi Ḥanina said: The seal of the Holy One, Blessed be He, is truth [emet], which ends with the letter tav. Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani said: The letter tav teaches that these are people who observed the entire Torah from alef through tav.
Shabbat 55a.12

PRACTICE

Reflections

At this moment in time…

  • WHEN have you easily told the truth and when have you easily lied or shaded the truth? 
  • WHAT is a truth that you don’t experience through your own life, but need to work to understand through others’ perspective? 
  • HOW do you differentiate truth from fact and fact from truth? 
  • WHEN you feel someone else is not being truthful, what is your reaction?  Which soul-traits do you or could you call on? 

Text Study

  • The LORD passed before him and proclaimed: “The LORD! the LORD! a God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness [truth], extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; yet He does not remit all punishment, but visits the iniquity of parents upon children and children’s children, upon the third and fourth generations.” (Exodus 34:6-7
  • Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel teaches, three things ensure the world’s survival: justice, truth, and peace, as it is said, “Speak truth, establish peace, and render honest judgments in your gates.”  (Pirkei Avot 1:18, translation by Rami Shapiro – Ethics of the Sages)
  • Truth involves not only speaking accurately, but even more important and earlier in the process, seeing accurately. And since truths are often multiple, so must be our perspectives. (Allen Morinis, Every Day Holiness)
  • We choose our truth by the scope of our vision.  (Lawrence Kushner, The Book of Words)

Affirmations

  • Explore the Power of your Dreams.
  • Uncover and Expose Hidden Truth.
  • Find Space to Rejuvenate in Reverie.

from the Eht/Aht: a netivot wisdom oracle

Embodied Practice

  • Enchant a lip gloss or lip balm to help you speak truth by saying over it, “Pretty my lips but don’t soften the bite. Let me speak truth but nothing out spite.” Then blow on it three times.  Repeat each time you apply it to your lips.
    • Note: I found that charm on Tumblr years ago, but can’t remember the source.

Action

  • At the end of each day, write down the moments you were less than truthful with yourself or others. Take it in as information without judgement At the end of each week or the end of the month, examine where/why/when you chose to not be fully truthful.
    (inspired by a practice found in Mussar Yoga by Edith Brotman)


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