“The Whole Truth and Nothing but the Emes”

“The Whole Truth and Nothing but the Emes”

From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon

Has anybody ever asked you to give them the “emes”? “Emes” means the truth. In modern Hebrew, it’s pronounced Emet, but the Hebrew letters are the same: aleph א, mem מ, tav ת. This word, Emet, also reveals something true about the truth.

The first letter of the word Emet, is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The second letter of the word Emet, is the middle letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The third and last letter of the word Emet, is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet. From this we learn that something that is really true is true from the beginning to the end.

So, when somebody asks you, “What’s the emes?” they mean to say that they want the whole truth and nothing but the truth. They want what nobody else has, the “bottom line,” the “skinny,” and the “unvarnished truth.” Today, truth has been varnished, for sure, and facts have become matters of opinion. But, if we care to build a world on truth and justice, and I think that we do and should, then we need more than a definition of what is truth. We also need benchmarks for what is truth and agree to adhere to and uphold them.

One benchmark is whether the subject is true from beginning to end. That is, can the subject hold water beyond a reasonable doubt? Second, though not everyone agrees on what the truth is, our courts of appeal permit us to test the truth before a final verdict is rendered. Such truth-testing is a prized feature of our justice system. Third, even when the justice system renders a final decision that still doesn’t satisfy our personal opinion, there remains, in Judaism, God’s ultimate judgment. And, if we can be patient and not pretend to be God, then truth does come and justice is served. Our preference is to see such ultimate truth and justice in our lifetime, but sometimes that is beyond us, too. In our prayer book, we find this petition:

“Pour out Your spirit upon the rulers of all lands;
Guide them that they may govern justly.
O may You alone rule over us in steadfast love and compassion.
Blessed are You, Adonai, who loves righteousness and justice.”

Let’s begin by being faithful bearers of the truth by adhering to longstanding benchmarks. Let’s model how to grow comfortable with the truth even when it doesn’t reflect our opinion. And, finally, let’s allow the systems of truth and justice, secular and religious, serve us as they’re intended to do. If, as others have said, “the truth can set us free,” then I’m even more optimistic about what the “emes” can do for us.