Yehudah recognized [his seal, wrap, and staff] and said, “She is more innocent than I am!” (Bereshith 38:26)
Our Sages tell us that the benefits of overcoming one’s pride and admitting the truth are numerous. Because Yehudah admitted the truth even though it was very difficult and uncomfortable for him, his eternal reward was that he and his descendants would be kings of Israel. Moreover, he merited that the artisan of the Tabernacle and its utensils – Betzalel – was his descendent. Many other illustrious Torah personalities also descended from Yehudah.1
Since admitting the truth can be one of life’s most difficult challenges, it is important to cultivate an attitude that will enable us to rise to this challenge when there is a need. Rav Yisrael Salanter had many opponents, and every week when he would deliver his shiur, a representative of his opponents would sit in the front row and contradict him. During one such shiur, just as Rav Yisrael reached a climactic point, the attending representative challenged him with a question that destroyed the whole basis of the shiur. Rav Yisrael paused only briefly, then admitted he was wrong and left the room.
Later, when discussing the incident with his students, Rav Yisrael explained his actions. When the question was presented to him, he immediately formulated several approaches to answer it. They would have satisfied his audience, but as he thought them through, he realized that none of them were emeth le’amitho – the absolute truth. Nevertheless, at first he thought that perhaps, for the sake of the Torah’s honor, he should respond with one of the answers that had come to mind, but he caught himself and thought, “Rav Yisrael, you learn mussar (intense study of ethics); what about the emeth?!” He therefore admitted his error and stepped down.2
When Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer first became Rosh Yeshivah of Etz Chaim, he made an error in both the first and the second shiurim he delivered there. Each time he admitted his error. While he was preparing for his third shiur, it occurred to him that if he were to err again, it might cost him his position. In fact, he did make a mistake in his third shiur, but he decided that the truth was more important than his job, so he admitted it. He did not lose his position, and went on to become one of the Torah giants of his generation.
1 Yalkut Shimoni Parshath Vayechi 159.
2 Tenuath Mussar 1:326.
Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org