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January 01, 1988 - Image 33

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-01-01

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

I TORAH PORTION 1

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Not By Truth Alone
Does The World Endure

RABBI IRWIN GRONER

Special to The Jewish News

D

oes Judaism ever per-
mit deviations from
high moral stan-
dards? Are moral values ab-
solute? How do we resolve
ethical dilemmas?
Consider emet, truth, as an
important illustration. Emet
is one of the basic principles
of Judaism, for the Torah is
filled with admonitions to
abhor falsehood and to tell
the truth. In rabbinic tradi-
tion, Rabban Simeon ben
Gamliel said, "The world is
established on three prin-
ciples: truth, justice and
peace!' The seal of God is
truth, for when truth is ut-
tered, one finds evidence of
God's Presence. Our sages tell
us that when a person will be

Shabbat Vayechi:
Genesis
47:28-50:26,
I Kings 2:1-12

brought before the heavenly
tribunal on the great Day of
Judgement, the first question
that will be asked of him will
Nasata venatata
be
B'emunah? — Have you been
honest and truthful in your
dealings?
But is truth an absolute
value that can never be
altered, or are there situa-
tions or conditions when it
can be compromised? What is
one to do when ethical values
come in conflict with one
another?
This issue is raised in a
dramatic way in our sidrah.
After the death of Jacob, the
brothers of Joseph became ap-
prehensive and fearful.
"Perhaps Joseph will hate us
and will repay us for all the
evil that we have done unto
him!" Joseph never pUnished
us because he did not want to
hurt our father, Jacob. Now
that Jacob is no longer with
us, he will deal cruelly with
us.
So they sent a message,
"Your father commanded
before he died, saying, 'So
shall you say unto Joseph:
Forgive the trangressions of
your brothers.' " When
Joseph heard their words, he
wept and assured them that
he would be close to them and
support them. But did Jacob
truly issue this statement?

Irwin Groner is rabbi of Cong.
Shaarey Zedek.

The Talmud deduces from
this that it is permissible for
a person to deviate from the
truth for the sake of peace.
Rashi notes, "The brothers
deviated from the truth
because of peace, for Jacob did
not command them thus,
since he did not suspect
Joseph?'
Thus we are taught that
truth is not an absolute value
when it collides with the ideal
of peace. However, a judicious
decision is needed in which
concern for others is weighed
in the balance with concern
for truth.
The philosopher, Fichte,
once said: "I would not break
my word, even to save
mankind!' Jewish teachers
rejected this absolutist posi-
tion. There are times when
the claims of truth must give
way to the requirements of
shalom or the ideals of ches-
ed and rachamim, kindness
and compassion. While it is
wrong to tell an outright lie,
there are circumstances when
telling the absolute truth is
an act of cruelty or
insensitivity.
Consider this agonizing
question: Shall a patient suf-
fering from terminal illness
be told the truth by his doc-
tors? One can summon cogent
arguments for telling a pa-
tient the complete facts about
the seriousness of his illness.
This enables him to prepare
himself for the end, to put his
affairs in order and to make
peace with his family and all
who are dear to him.
But on the other hand, who
can predict with certitude the
precise outcome of a disease?
Telling the truth in the most
stark and bleak medical
terms may submit a patient
to torment, may cause him
further emotional harm and
may extinguish that feeble
spark of hope which is, for
many people, essential to
make life tolerable. In telling
the truth in its most severe
clinical form, we may rob the
patient of what faith remains
to provide a measure of joy in
the weeks or days or hours
that remain. Great is truth,
but also great is peace; and
equally great is the well-
being of our fellow creatures.
In my view, Judaism would
say there is no absolute
answer to the question "Shall
a terminal patient know the
truth?" Each case must be
dealt with in its own context,
and depends upon a careful
assessment of the cir-
cumstances. The real ques-

Continued on Page 38

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THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

33

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