Facing the Truth
By Rabbi Daniel Travis
Yehudah, your brothers shall acknowledge you. Your hands shall be on
enemy’s necks; your father’s sons shall bow to you.
Yaakov blessed Yehudah that he be rewarded measure-for-measure for the
outstanding deed he had performed. “Just as you weren’t embarrassed to
admit the truth regarding Tamar,” said Yaakov, “so too shall others admit
that the kingship of Israel is yours.”1 However, did Yehudah really have
a choice when he acted as he did? Had he not admitted the truth, he alone
would have borne responsibility for the death of Tamar and the children
she was carrying! If so, did this act truly earn him the tremendous reward
of kingship over the Jewish people?
Yehudah could easily have found some other way to spare Tamar’s life,
without revealing the truth, that was so humiliating to him. Had he done
so, however, Tamar would have been left with a blemished reputation.
Disregarding his own honor, Yehudah admitted to the whole truth, redeeming
Tamar’s reputation in the process.2
Throughout the generations, the willingness to admit a mistake has been
the hallmark of effective Jewish leaders and decision-makers. If one sees
that a judge in a beith din has erred in a specific ruling, the halachah
is that one must inform him of his error. When he is so informed, the
judge may not build a tower of logical proofs in support of his position;
rather he must review both sides of the case objectively, in order to
arrive at the truth.3 Although disagreeing with a judge may seem to
reflect a lack of respect, in fact just the opposite is true; pointing out
an error affords a judge the chance to arrive at the truth! It is
forbidden to remain silent in such cases, for the Torah commands us to
distance ourselves from sheker. 4
We need not be concerned that people will lose respect for a Rav if he
admits that he made a mistake. When Rav Chaim Soleveichick accepted the
position of Rav of Brisk, he appointed Rav Simcha Zelig Reiger to head
the beith din of the city. Reb Chaim later explained that he had chosen
Reb Simcha Zelig for the position because he knew that Reb Simcha Zelig
possessed the strength of character to admit he was wrong, even after he
had issued a final ruling. Similarly, when Rav Chatzkel Abramsky became
Rav, he answered “I don’t know” to the very first question that was posed
to him, and he went on to become one of the great leaders of the Jewish
People.5 People admire someone who values truth and integrity enough that
he will admit a mistake.
1. Kli Yakar on Bereshith 49:8.
2. Rav Leib Chasman, Or Yahel.
3. Choshen Mishpat 17:8.
4. Shavuoth 32a; Choshen Mishpat 9:7 However one must speak respectfully,
prefacing the correct halachah by saying “Didn’t my teacher tell me that…”
The Responsa Torah Lishmah (Ben Ish Chai) 249 adds that this is so even
regarding an obvious mistake such as a verse of the Torah.
5. MiDevar Sheker Tirchak, p. 152.
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org