Leadership, Truth and Israel
The Power to Rule
In the ancient world, to rule, required power, and the power that undergirded every sovereign was, ultimately, military power. A king without an army is a king with no authority, a king who’s words and decrees carry no weight. But the Jewish people had an entirely different relationship to power and leadership. Our sages taught that the authority of the king, of Jewish leadership is “in the mouth,’ in the power of speech.
Yehuda is the root of Jewish monarchy. Our holy works teach that every tribe has a particular strength and ability, and Yehuda’s gift was his ability to articulate truth. When our sages wanted to characterize the nature of Yehuda’s speaking to Yosef they drew on Mishlei 25:11. “Like golden apples on silver platters is a phrase well turned.” The word for phrase ophen, is also the word for wheel. The sages say that, “Just like a wheel looks the same from every angle, the same was true about the words of Yehuda when he spoke to Yosef, they were impeccably clear and truthful from every angle.”
In today’s culture, words have lost their power.
We live in a world overflowing with words: Words, words, words. Talk, talk, talk. In the 24/7 culture of media and the internet, an endless flow of words has drained speech of much of it’s power. Today, the keys to getting ahead and achieving power, have as much to do with money and connections as with anything else. But that success, that power, is not true, lasting power.
From the perspective of eternity (netzach), there is only one true source of power, only one thing that undergirds all other things, and that is truth, emett. Truth has it’s own internal reality and requires nothing other than itself, to justify and fortify itself. This integral power of truth flows from it’s being the “seal of God.” But what does that actually mean? The deeper, underlying meaning of that concept is this: God is the singular source and life force that gives existence to everything. And, just like the royal seal on a document attests to the kings authority vested in the document, the same is true with emett, with truth. The truth in something is the essential core of Godliness that is present in, and sustains, all things. Without truth, things just evaporate.
The Essence of Speech
When God created speech, what He created was a kli, a vehicle and means particularly suited for expressing and communicating truth. When one speaks emmet, it’s powerful and contains the quality of eternity. When one speaks frivolity and lies, it’s almost like not speaking at all. There’s nothing really there.
This is the source of the weight of the words of talmidei chochomim, Torah scholars, who our sages refer to as “kings;” kings whose power emanates from the truth that is Torah, the words of Truth they express and teach. As it says, “Through me kings reign, and rulers decree just laws.” (Mishlei 8:15) The authority of great Torah scholars doesn’t come from their wealth or connections, but from the lofty, Godly truth that is transmitted through them to the nation; and which inspires the nation to admire them and their teachings, and to drink thirstily of their profound words. Indeed, even hundreds of years after their passing, their words remain alive and vital, while the proclamations of the mightiest leaders in history remain on the dusty bookshelves, or are long forgotten.
Truth is the source of Jewish sovereignty, and from truth flows it’s legitimacy and power, as is hinted to in the very name of Yehuda: “l’hodot al ha’emett,” to acknowledge the truth. For this reason, when Am Yisrael moves away from truth, Jewish sovereignty is undermined creating a downward spiral that leads to galut, exile. And exile is muteness: As alluded to with Moshe who was “heavy of speech and heavy of tongue.” And we find a similar phenomenon with Yehuda. When Yehuda falsely told his father that Yosef was dead, and presented the false evidence of the blood soaked garment, then “And Yehuda went down,” which, our sages say, means he experienced a personal falling and was demoted from his position of leadership. And when was this personal falling rectified? Later, when his daughter-in-law Tamar confronted him and said, “Do you recognize this signet [seal] ring?” Beneath the surface God had directed her words. Truth is the seal of God, and so she was actually asking, “Are you capable of acknowledging the truth, the seal of emett?
Today, we are reborn as a nation on the stage of history in our revived homeland. And we must be cognizant of truth: Aware that to base our security and wellbeing—economic, social or military—on anything but the timeless truths expressed in the Torah and the words of the prophets, is to create the flimsiest of foundations. Truth is our essence, our destiny and the source of our collective strength. If, because of challenges and fears we retreat from the truth, inevitably, the truth will find us wherever we are. If we don’t adhere tightly to the emett of Torah, then “Emett, truth, will sprout from the earth.” (Tehillim 85:12) Truth will have a way of emerging out of the trials and tribulations that earthly events entail.
Yosef and Yehuda
Yosef was a man of practicality and action who paved the way for malchut, for rulership. Yosef lived in the midst of a world of sheker, of non truth, and in such a context he needed to use all the means at his disposal to achieve what was necessary in that polluted world. And he himself was a ruler. But ultimately, the eternity of Jewish sovereignty is not a product of Yosef, of strategic practicalities. Rather, the ultimate, permanent kingdom of Israel is rooted in Yehuda—the one who acknowledged and spoke the truth—the one who embodied the ancient characterization of Am Yisrael, “Their might is found only in their mouth.” It is the emett, the truth understood, acknowledged and forthrightly spoken by the Jewish nation that undergirds all of our strength: Economic, societal and military.
Today, as a nation whose rebirth is unfolding beneath our very feet, we are faced by daunting challenges at every turn. Our ability to rise to those challenges, no matter how daunting and seemingly overwhelming they are, is an outgrowth of our understanding and acknowledgment of our deepest inner truth. Indeed, we face no less a challenge than the very legitimacy of our existence being called into question, and in the end, it’s our unswerving commitment to the truth of the reality of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael, that will scatter those phantom clouds of baseless lies.
In the End
Regarding Moshiach it says, “He shall strike down the land with the rod of his mouth, and slay the wicked with the breath of his lips.” (Isaiah 11:4) Moshiach will state the truth, the truth of the reality of God, with such powerful clarity, that he will humble all mankind, not by force of arms, but by the force of words of emett. When the truth is spoken with intense depth and unswerving clarity, then the inner truth in all people will be unable to resist the overwhelming force of it’s pull. Then, that exalted truth itself will render God sovereign and will lead to, “Thus said God: I have returned to Zion, and I will dwell in Jerusalem. Jerusalem will be called the City of emett, of truth …” (Zechariah 8:3).
And until that day, the reality is, that even if there are those that deny truth, deny reality, this denial in no way dilutes it’s strength. Even if, at noon, the whole world were to claim that it was night, the sun would still be shining. And so we, to the extent that we understand that truth is truth—immutable and eternal—and that it requires nothing other than our clear, confident understanding and expression—that itself will imbue us with the fortitude to express emett through our national life, and to see the fruition of:
“Grant honor to Your nation, praise to those that fear You … and an opening for those that yearn for You … and iniquity will shut it’s mouth … and You God, alone, will be sovereign on the mountain of Zion, the dwelling place of Your grandeur.”
Translated by Shimon Apisdorf