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TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES

by Steve Lerner    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Having recently completed the first book of the Torah, reflecting on its major themes and teachings seems to be in order. One such theme is the propensity in Man for misconception. Misconception can be said to be at the root of most sins.

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Having recently completed the first book of the Torah, reflecting on its major themes and teachings seems to be in order. One such theme is the propensity in Man for misconception. Misconception can be said to be at the root of most sins. In Hebrew, the word for sin is "chet" which implies a missing of the mark. To understand the dynamics of sin is to understand a part of Man's thought process and the interaction of body and soul. Not to understand the workings of sin is to invite havoc into the life of a Jew. As King Solomon said in Proverbs, "There is no person so righteous on this earth who does only good and does not sin." The aftermath of sin is often painful, sometimes tragic, and requires great effort by the individual and possibly the whole nation to repair.

In the first portion of the Torah we find Adam and Eve in paradise. Man is in harmony with nature, possessing the ability to clearly distinguish between truth and falsity. There is no gray area. The concept of sin is external to Man, represented by the serpent who cunningly convinces Eve to partake of the forbidden fruit. The temptation to sin is presented as being attractive to the mind and body, and promises to satisfy even the highest of aspirations. It is based on an elaborate illusion which tantalizes the senses and creates a facade so real that it overwhelms Man's better judgment, at least for the moment. It is a very costly moment when Mankind is contaminated and banished from paradise, trading his once clear picture of reality for a new and confused reality in which good is tangled with evil.

The attraction of sin is a further manifestation of the body being formed from the coarse earth. The earth gives off an appearance of existing on its own, according to a system of cause and effect which we know as nature. As Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz, a great Torah scholar of the past generation, explained, it is the dust of the earth that obscures and conceals the Divine presence, making it all but imperceptible.

It is in this environment that one's soul must endure and provide guidance for the journey through life. This glimmer of light from the soul, however, must be supplemented with the radiant truth of the Torah, and a person's body must become purified by the performance of mitzvot, to enable him to prevail over the powerful forces which seek to confuse and conceal the truth.

Even the outstanding Torah personalities had to battle misconception, albeit on a very high plane. Eve, Cain, Isaac, Joseph and the brothers, and others faced the challenge of overcoming various misconceptions. The possibility of error in judgment is a condition for which one must be constantly on guard. The more one is able to refine his body and incorporate the knowledge of Torah, the greater are his chances of reaching sound decisions.

Being aware of the issue is the best way to avoid the pitfall. The trappings of having a body created from earth causes a natural bias in favor of a subjective reality. The propensity to err is built in. The Torah cautions us in the Shema prayer not to stray after our heart or after our eyes. The desires of one's heart influences one's outlook and thereby infects the ability to view reality. Traces of jealousy or envy, for example, tainted the brothers' ability to fairly judge Joseph when they condemned him to the pit. One requires great effort and Divine assistance to be able to overcome these powerful human tendencies which color reality. King Solomon prayed for a knowing heart and the blessing of wisdom to be able to lead and judge his people justly.

Reviewing the book of Genesis with special attention to the manner in which the biblical characters approached major issues, their thought processes and reactions to any errors in judgment, provides a valuable insight into the care needed in reaching decisions. At the moment of truth there are various forces at play, prone to cloud one's vision of reality, which must be anticipated and taken into consideration prior to rendering final judgment. It seems the more crucial the decision, the more likely the opportunity for error. There are different levels of truth. Truth which penetrates to the very core of a matter is referred to as the truth of the truth, and it is the highest level towards which we strive. It is a level which, if achieved, earns one the title of being a partner with Hashem in creation.

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Steve Lerner writes from Atlanta.

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