Rabbi Stephen J. Einstein
Sometimes when I want to explain the concept of midrash, I will simply say, “Father, I cannot, tell a lie.” Every American child has grown up hearing this famous story from the boyhood of the Father of our Country, our first President, George Washington. Along the way, some teacher probably informed us that this encounter between George and his dad never really took place. Oh…but didn’t it? It may not be history…but it is midrash—a story that gives us an understandable lesson that is easy to remember. Similarly, you can ask any primary-grade religious school student what Abraham’s father did for a living. The child will quickly respond, “he was an idol-maker.” Try to find that somewhere in Genesis! Yet it teaches an important, easily remembered lesson.
Honesty is the best policy. Or is it? I pose this question to future grooms: If your wife comes home from Nordstrom, and asks, “How do I look in my new outfit?” what is the correct response? It’s not such an easy one to answer, is it? You have to be sure what the real question is. Is it the stated question, or is it: “Do you still think I’m beautiful? Do you still love me?”
Our Sages, of blessed memory, pointed out that the Hebrew word for “truth”—Emet—is composed of the first, middle, and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet (or, should I say, aleph-bet?). They concluded from this little fact that ALL our words—from beginning to middle to end—should be the truth. Yet, is that entirely possible? If someone asks, “How are you?“ must you go into detail about the pain in your lower back?
Aaron, the first Kohen Gadol, is lauded as a great man because he both loved peace and pursued peace. The Rabbis tell the story that two people were at odds. Aaron was able to bring them together because he told each that the other wanted to make peace. Actually, he had made it all up—neither had expressed the idea of making peace. Yet, peace ensued as a result. Do the ends justify the means? Not always, but….
The issues we face during Elul and the first third of Tishri are not clear-cut. That’s why we are named Yisrael—the ones who wrestle with God. We are called to grapple with the Godly within ourselves, and—as a result—to emerge better, albeit limping perhaps.