Taking Truth To Heart II
By Rabbi Daniel Travis
When his [Yosef’s] brothers realized that their father loved him more
than he loved the other children, they began to hate him. They could not
say a peaceful word to him. (Bereshith 37:4)
Although these words are not complimentary to Yaakov’s children, there was
a very positive side to their actions. Yaakov’s sons certainly entertained
ill feelings toward Yosef, yet truthfulness was so much part of them that
it did not allow them to say anything to Yosef that was contrary to the
thoughts they bore in their hearts.(1) This level is called tamim
(perfect), and indicates that there is no contradiction between one’s
inner feelings and one’s external actions – that one’s actions are in
perfect harmony with the feelings in one’s heart.
It is often difficult to harmonize one’s heart and one’s actions;
therefore this praise is reserved only for the truly righteous.(2) King
Dovid described this behavior when he wrote, “Speak truth in your
heart.”(3) This level of truthfulness is very exalted indeed, and is
found only among those who truly fear God.(4)
Nevertheless, there are times when it is better not to speak the truth
that is in one’s heart in order to spare another person from
embarrassment. After all, King Dovid said, “Speak truth in your heart.” He
didn’t say, “Speak the truth that is in your heart.” Rav Safra and Rava
once took a walk together outside the city limits. As they were walking
they met Mar Zutra on his way to visit the city. Mar Zutra, mistakenly
thinking that Rav Safra and Rava had come especially to greet him, told
them that they should not have troubled themselves to do so. Rav Safra
responded that they had not been aware that Mar Zutra was on his way to
town; they were simply out walking, and had not intended to greet him.(5)
Rava was of the opinion that under such circumstances it would have been
better not to “speak the truth in one’s heart,” but rather to keep quiet.
Since Rav Safra and Rava had not known that Mar Zutra was approaching the
city, if they remained silent and let Mar Zutra assume that they had come
to meet him they would not have been deceiving him. They would just have
been leaving him to his own assumptions – if anything he would
have “tricked” himself. Since it would embarrass Mar Zutra to know that
they had not come to greet him, Rava felt that they should not have
1. Rashi on Bereshith 37:4.
2. Rabbeinu Bachyeh on Bereshith 37:4.
3. Tehillim 15:2.
4. Bava Bathra 88a.
5. Chulin 94b.
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org