By Rabbi Daniel Travis
God saw that the light was tov. (Bereshith 1:4)
Following each stage of creation, the Torah states that God saw that it
was “tov.” Although the literal translation of “tov” is “good,” here this
word must be understood differently, for it is obvious that God in His
omniscience knew, even prior to any creation, that His handiwork would be
good. “Tov,” then, does not refer to “good” in its literal sense. Rather
the word is an expression of the concept of perpetuation relative to each
of these creations. Since God alone has eternal existence, only that which
God deems proper, or “good,” can endure.1
The word “emeth” – “truth,” also implies perpetuation. As long as an
object continues to perform the task that God created it to do, it is
considered to be emeth. Conversely, when an object ceases to do its
function it is considered to be “sheker” – “false.”2 The parallel between
these two concepts, tov and emeth, is brought out by the above verse,
which simultaneously describes the light as tov, while hinting to the
word “emeth” in the final letters of the words "vayar Elokim eth".3
In the same vein, the Gemara suggests that when the Torah commands us to
take a branch of an “etz avoth” on Sukkoth, it may be referring to
the “hirdoff” plant. However, the Gemara then rejects this possibility,
citing the verse, “You shall love truth and peace.”4 Rashi explains that
because the hirdoff plant is poisonous, it represents neither peace nor
truth. It is logical that a toxic plant would not represent peace, but why
does the plant contradict the concept of truth? The Torah itself has
associated truth with perpetuation; thus it is clear that a poisonous
plant cannot be part of anything that is identified with truth.
Although truth is eternal, it may not manifest itself immediately. A Roman
governor once challenged Rav Eliezer, citing the verse, “The lip of truth
shall be established forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment.”5
Since the Roman Empire had retained its supremacy for many years, he
claimed it represented truth, in fulfillment of that verse. The Jewish
people, on the other hand, had a monarch for only a short time; thus they
are an example of the end of the verse, “...a lying tongue lasts only a
moment.” Rav Eliezer responded, “If the verse read, ‘The lip of truth is
established forever’ (in the present tense), your claim would be valid.
However, the words of the verse are, ‘The lip of truth shall be
established forever’ (referring to the reign of truth in the future
tense). In our age, falsehood reigns; only in the future will the truth
become apparent.” The Roman Governor was so impressed by Rav Eliezer’s
answer that he converted to Judaism.6
1. Ramban on Bereshith 1:4.
2. Mishnah Para 8:9; Reishith Chochmah.
3. See section on Bereshith 3:14 – “A Leg To Stand On” (page 37) which
explains this idea in depth.
4. Sukkah 32b, citing Zechariah 8:19.
5. Mishlei 12:19.
6. Zohar Ki Sisa 188a.
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org