I know this isn't my usual style, but I heard a really nice d'var Torah today that I'd like to share.
It starts off with with the consideration in this week's parsha where that famous line where God says "Let us make man in our image." So the question is, who is "us"? If God is all alone up there doing his creative work, who is he talking to? The most common answer given, as it is expounded in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 38b) is that God is conferring with the angels, his heavenly court, regarding the decision whether to create man.
So there is a midrash which relates that conversation. In the midrash, there are four angels conversing with God. The first, Chesed, says that man should be created because he does good deeds. The second, Emet, says that man should not be created because all he does is lie. The third, Tzedek, says that man should be created for he does act of righteousness. And the fourth, Shalom, says man should not be created for all he does is fight.
So the score is two votes for and two votes against. Seems deadlocked. So what does God do? He throws Emet to the ground. (We might call it a divine veto.) Now with the score two to one, God creates man. But another angel comes up to God and says, how can you throw your seal of Emet to the ground? So God responds, "Let the truth grow up from the ground."
As is common in many midrashim, the meaning behind this one is far from clear. Rabbi M. who gave the d'var Torah just kind of left it there with just the appellation that it was something to think deeply about.
Now I thought this was a neat midrash. Obviously you can't take it literally but there does seem to be a deeper message. To me it seems to speak even more than others because the connection between Judaism and truth is an especially interesting relationship to me. That God would throw truth to the ground for the sake of creating mankind is a very symbolic. But symbolic of what?
On one level we could see it as God making the building of truth man's work. Truth is not in heaven, it is on earth waiting for us to build it up. This would be appealing for a scientist because it basically describes how he'd go about doing his work. And really for any of us who pursue truth, this would be a meaningful interpretation.
But on a different level we can also appreciate the degrees of importance in God's (or the midrash writer's who was speaking for God) perspective on reality. Out of those four key elements, it is truth which God throws down. Presumably God wanted to create man and his reasons seemed to flow around the ability of man to do acts of compassion and righteousness so these are clearly important. But he chooses peace over truth to keep in its ideal position. So while I wouldn't say the Midrash is promoting the idea that truth unimportant, but that in comparison to peace and righteousness it comes out on the bottom. We may never know truth fully, and it would be presumptuous of any man to say that he knows the Truth (TM), but what is key to life are acts of kindness and peace. In the order of values, truth has been humbled.
In Pirkei Avot 3:12, it is written, "[Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa] used to say, 'He whose works exceed his wisdom, his wisdom endures; but he whose wisdom exceeds his works, his wisdom will not endure.'" A testament to the idea that the key to life is doing good deeds and not just the goal of becoming 'wise.'
But on a third level we might be able to understand this midrash as a description of the ethic of Judaism entirely. Us skeptics realize that large swaths of the traditional faith cannot be reconciled with what we have learned through modern scholarship. And if one studies the works of some famous rabbis, there are hints that they suspected as much themselves. Not so much in terms of modern scholarship, naturally, but that the basic thesis had a some problems. Hamayvin yavin.
Yet even though there are issues with questions of fact, the basic values that Judaism progresses in terms of tzedek, chesed and shalom are unmistakable. Truth, in Judaism, according to this midrash, is not something received from above, but grown from below. Like God, we, as a community, may need to sacrifice truth as we think we know it and rely on our basic values to bring Judaism foward. We ought to embrace the truth, whatever it may be, within the basic values of Judaism. That will be the true test and the real challenge for Judaism as we engage these modern times.