What Is More Important: Truth Or Ongoing Love? – OpEd


What is the primary and most important value in life? For centuries Greek philosophers mislead most Christian, Jewish and Islamic theologians with the Greek philosophers doctrine that the must important value in life was TRUTH. 

Even the great 12th century Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides fell for this Greek error when he wrote in his Guide for the Perplexed that before Adam ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, he lived a life with perfect metaphysical knowledge. Adam could contemplate the perfection of God and the majesty of the intelligible realm, and did not see the world in (judgmental) terms of good and bad.

‘Through the intellect one distinguishes between truth and falsehood, and that was found in [Adam] in its perfection and integrity. Good and bad, on the other hand, belong to the things generally accepted as known. For one does not say: “It is good that heaven is spherical” and “it is bad that the earth is flat. 

“Rather one says true and false with regard to these assertions…When Adam inclined toward his desires of the imagination and the pleasures of his corporeal senses…Adam was punished by being deprived of that intellectual apprehension…. [and] became absorbed in judging things to be (morally) bad or good.’

But if you study the Sacred Scriptures of all three Abrahamic religions you will see that the importance of human charity, compassion, kindness. hope, awe and ongoing faithful love are stressed much more than universal, unchanging Truth. 

The Midrash relates that when God was about to create humankind, the angels formed two factions.  Love said: ‘Let him be created, for he will do acts of love.’ Truth said: ‘Let him not be created, for he will practice deception.’  Righteousness said: ‘Let him be created, for he will seek justice.’  Peace said: ‘Let him not be created, for he will be always be involved in verbal disagreements and controversies.’  

What did God do?  He seized Truth and hurled it down to earth; because among four above values, the least important is Truth. Righteousness, Peace, and Ongoing Love are central to our Abrahamic faith. 

As for the question of Truth, we must put it aside and act with kindness and ongoing love as our guide. 

The Talmud states that when Sarah heard the three angels prophecy that by next year she would give birth, she laughed to herself, and said (Genesis 18:12): “Now [after] I am withered, am I to have enjoyment—with my husband [being] so old?” the rabbis discerned that when Sarah responded, she says (v. 12): “with my husband so old,” but when God repeats her statement to Abraham in verse 13, God says: “old as I am” (i.e., Sarah referred to her own old age). 

This teaches us the greatness of peace: for God changed Sarah’s words, for the sake of peace between husband and wife (Talmud Bava Mezia 87a).

Even in issues of Jewish law TRUTH comes in second place. The Talmud (Eruvin 13b) states that contending interpretations of religious texts are both the words of the living God. “Rabbi Abba stated in the name of Samuel: 

For three years there was a dispute between the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel, the former asserting, “the Halacha (legal ruling) is in agreement with our views,” and the latter contending, “the Halacha is in agreement with our views’. Then a bat kol (heavenly voice) announced, ” Both (views) are the [true] words of the living God, but the Halacha is in agreement with the rulings of the School of Hillel.” 

Since, “both are the words of the living God,” what was it that entitled the School of Hillel to have the Halacha fixed in agreement with their rulings? – Because they were kindly and modest, they studied their own rulings and those of the House of Shammai. Not only that, but they stated the opinion of the School of Shammai before they stated their own opinion.” 

Another section of the Talmud (Megillah 15-16) does not limit Divinely approved disagreements and differences to just two sides of an issue. Discussing a verse in the book of Esther when Esther says, “Let the king and Haman come to my banquet” (5:4) the question is asked; “What was Esther’s reason for inviting Haman? 

Rabbi Eleazar said: she set a trap for him. Rabbi Joshua said: she had learned in her father house “If your enemy is hungry give him bread to eat” (Proverbs 25:21) Rabbi Meir said: so Haman would not plot a coup. Rabbi Judah said: so no one would suspect Esther was Jewish. 

Rabbi Nehemiah said: so the Jewish people should not depend on her and stop praying. Rabbi Jose said: so she could keep her eye on him. Rabbi Joshua ben Korha said: she thought—I will encourage Haman so the king will be enraged and kill us both. Rabbi Eliezer of Modi’im said she made the king jealous of Haman and she also made the princes jealous of him. 

When Rabbah ben Abbuha later came across Elijah the prophet, he asked him: Which of these (eight different) reasons in TRUTH prompted Esther to act as she did? Elijah replied: All of them. All the reasons given by the Rabbis are correct. 

People often have mixed motivations in any action, so it is wise not to judge the motivations and intentions of others to quickly or to simply. The rabbis believed that all future developments within Jewish law that future rabbis would find, were already there; hidden seeds within the original text. 

Thus, although in many areas of Jewish religious life, Orthodox Judaism seems very remote from Biblical Judaism, it really is not further away than many Supreme Court decisions that are supposed to be based on the Constitution. 

For example, the Supreme Court maintains that there is a Constitutional right to privacy, but it is not literally written in the constitution. The Supreme Court rather derives the hidden seeds of a right to privacy from the Bill of Rights explicit limits to government interference in a citizens private life. From a Jewish perspective, this is an inspired insight from the constitution’s regard for the civil rights of all Americans.

Religious fundamentalists, who usually take Scripture literally and simplistically, always have problems with the obvious development of their religious tradition over the centuries. They often call these developments; deviations, distortions and even degenerations. They believe that only the behaviors and understandings of the first few generations of believers are correct. 

But all religions that have a history of more than a few centuries, have had to rely on a variety of interpretations to met the changing circumstances of human history, and that is why they are still alive today. 

Indeed, it is the ability of Sacred Scriptures to inspire people who live in very different circumstances from the original group of believers, that provides evidence that the original texts are much more than simply human creations.

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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