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Truth Tested

By Rabbi Daniel Travis

"And Yaakov was a straightforward man who sat in tents." (Bereshith 25:27)

“Tam,” the Hebrew term for straightforward used in this verse, conjures an image of someone who could be easily deceived. However this supposition did not apply to Yaakov. Since the Torah includes here the seemingly extra word “man,” we understand that there was nothing naive about Yaakov’s straightforward approach to life. He was a “man” in every sense of the word, fully in control of his actions, who knew when to be straightforward and when to suppress this trait when craftiness was called for {1}.

The Vilna Gaon personified this idea, for he was exceptionally truthful and he possessed an unusual ability to weed out deception. Once two witnesses came before him to testify against someone who had a very good reputation. The witnesses were questioned separately, yet their testimonies matched perfectly. Others who were present assumed that such sound evidence could not be disproved, but the Vilna Gaon saw the situation in just the opposite light, and proved that their testimony was fraudulent. Since no two people will see something exactly the same way, it is impossible that any two testimonies should match one another detail for detail. Therefore the testimony of any two witnesses can at best agree with one another approximately, but can never match completely {2}.

On another occasion, a man presented the Vilna Gaon with the story that he had married a woman many years before but had abandoned her soon after the wedding. Now, he said, he regretted his action and wanted to return to her. The woman he claimed to have married did not recognize him, and so asked him a number of personal questions, which only her husband could have answered correctly. Although he answered all of her questions to her satisfaction, she still was not convinced. The Vilna Gaon interjected with a question about where he had sat in the synagogue immediately after the wedding. He claimed not to remember, and at that point his testimony broke down. Eventually he admitted that he was not the woman’s husband, but had been employed by the real husband to try to deceive the wife he had abandoned.

When asked how he had thought of asking such a question, the Vilna Gaon revealed his intuitive genius. The Gaon realized that the husband was a scoundrel who would not have thought of such a holy matter and would not have conveyed this information. Obviously this was an imposter {3}.


{1} The Rebbi of Lublin. See also article entitled “Wisdom or Deception,” (page 181) on Bereshith 27:35.
{2} Mishnah Sanhedrin 5:4.
{3} Both stories appear in The Vilna Gaon, Artscroll pp. 72-74.


Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org


 

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