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Parshas Mishpatim

That’s the Truth

By Rabbi Label Lam

Distance your-self from a false matter… (Shemos 23:7)

It is written in Avos D’Rebbi Nosson, that Aaron HaKohen had a unique approach to settling disputes amongst fellow Jews. The details are described in great detail by our sages there, “When two people quarreled, Aaron would go and sit down with one of them and say, “My son, look at what a state your friend is in. His heart is breaking; he is tearing his clothing and saying, ‘Woe is me! How can I lift up my eyes and look at my friend?! I am ashamed before him, for I was wrong!’ And so Aaron would sit with him until he removed the resentment from him. Then Aaron would go and sit with the other and say to him, “My son look at what a state your friend is in. His heart is breaking; he is tearing his clothes and saying, ‘Woe is me! How can I lift up my eyes and look at my friend? I am ashamed before him for I was in the wrong!’ And so he would sit with him until he had removed the resentment from his heart. When the two met the next time they would embrace and kiss one another.” (Avos D’Rebbe Nosson 12:4)

Very nice! Aaron was a peacemaker and it worked, but we have an explicit verse stated in the Torah, “Distance your-self from a false matter…” Aaron, in order to broker peace needed to employ a lie. How could he report that each was upset and feeling wrong if it was plainly - not true?” Do the ends justify the means? It could be that truth yields for peace on occasion but perhaps it’s not such a lie as it seems and Aaron may not be at all in violation of any Torah principle. How so?

Aaron understands that the Jewish People are uniquely “one” and our collective and individual fates our interdependent. How can one part of the same body resent another

of its own limbs? When it happens, and both become entrenched in their childish egoistic opinions, they must work extra hard to hold the resentment past the initial hurt. Aaron HaKohen, “the lover of peace” that he was understood that deep down inside they each feel regret and are longing for an opportunity to be released from the pain of their nagging antipathy. In that context Aaron, ever so patiently, accounted to the other- an inner reading of their emotions. He was diplomatically able to disable their stubborn resistance to forgive. The verse says to distance one’s self from a false matter. This is a true matter albeit hidden.

Similarly, and perhaps the corollary to the above is a story about someone known in Germany as, “The Baal Emes”–“The Master of Truth”. During the 2nd World War he was with a number of terrified Jewish souls who were hiding in a home when the Nazis broke in. As the story goes, they immediately found the Baal Emes seated at the dining room table learning. They barked at him viscously, “Is there anyone else here?” He calmly declared, “Yes! There are two others hiding in the attic.” They were subsequently discovered and were dragged out and killed. When it became known, the response of the “Baal Emes”, it was decided that he was no “Baal Emes”-“Master of Truth”.

We can understand that he had done something terrible but why should he lose his title the “Baal Emes”? Did he not say the truth? The answer must be that yes he did tell the truth, but to whom and what question? Superimposed upon that scene is another question screaming through the cosmos, aimed at him, as the Nazis are asking. That question is, “Do you care about a fellow Jew?” Tragically, to that question he must ultimately answer, “NO!” And yes, that’s the truth!

DvarTorah, Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Label Lam and



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