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The Ba’al Shem Tov: And Truth was Thrown to the Earth

Translated from Rabbi Ginsburgh’s trilogy of stories of the Ba’al Shem Tov, Or Yisrael, Vol II, p. 120

The holy Ba’al Shem Tov said: The ‘world’ says that one can go around the world with the truth. The meaning, he keenly explained, is that when a person comes to a place and tells the people there the truth, they cannot accept him or tolerate him, and he has to go to a different place. And then when he comes to a different place and tells them the truth, he also has to leave there. In this manner, he can go around the entire world with the truth.

He Created it for Inhabitation

Rebbe Shimon said: At the hour when the Holy One, Blessed Be He came to create Adam, the angels became divided into groups, some saying, he should not be created and others saying he should be created, as is written, “Loving-kindness and truth met, justice and peace kissed.[1] Loving-kindness says he should be created, for he performs acts of loving kindness. And truth says he should not be created, for he is all lies. Justice says he should be created, for he performs acts of righteousness, peace says he should not be created, for he is all dispute. What did the Holy One Blessed Be He do? He took truth and threw it to the earth, as is written, “And truth was thrown to the earth.”[2] The angels said before the Holy One Blessed Be He: Master of the Universe, why are you disgracing your seal? Let the truth arise from the earth! This is what is written, “Truth will grow from the earth.”[3], [4]

We learn from the words of our sages that there are two truths: The truth of the heavens and the truth of the earth. The truth of the heavens does not tolerate this world, which is full of deceiving fragmentation. Hence, it attempts to prevent its existence from the very start. And there is another truth, which grows and ascends specifically from the earth. This is the truth that is not repulsed by the ‘world of falsehood. It is willing to settle within it and to bolster its existence.

God is truth and His seal is truth. Certainly, there was never any thought in His will that is not the truth of truth. God’s legions – the angels – are also made of truth. The truth of the Master, however is not the same as the truth of His servants. Before the eyes of the angels, God takes the attribute of truth and “kneads” it as He wills. From his actions, we can understand that the truth of the angels is only partial.

If God desires this world and the humans that He created in it, we can understand that truth also exists here. The ‘angelic’ truth is thrown to the ground against the will of the angels, and in a way that they cannot understand, it affords Divine affirmation and empowerment to the Creation that is coming into existence.

The angels cannot understand how the truth can leap over all that is fragmentary and deceptive, over all the falsehood and transience of this world. But when the truth is thrown to the dust of the earth, they also leap into action. For if the world has arisen and is being created, they also understand that there is truth within it. Hence they also decree – Let the truth arise from the earth!

In this story, the Ba’al Shem Tov refers to people whose attribute of truth is closer to the truth of the angels. With their calculations of pure truth, they end up with an approach that negates reality.

In every place that they wish to settle, everyone rises against them and rejects them. You may think that these people are tzaddikim, who suffer the sins of their generation, which does not deserve them and cannot integrate their great holiness. The Ba’al Shem Tov says that this is not so and that they are justifiably expelled from every place.

“As the face reflected in the water is to the face, so is the heart of man to man.”[5] If the world cannot tolerate the truth, we can learn from this that the truth cannot tolerate the world. From this aspect, it is justifiably rejected. This world is the place of every person who is willing to participate in fulfilling God’s will, and elevating the truth from the earth. A person who insists on the truth in its purest form, in the highest of heavens, belongs with the angels, and not here on earth. “He did not create it for chaos –He formed it to be settled.”[6]  If a positive attribute does not rectify the world, but rather undermines its foundation, it is not in its place.

“Moses is truth and his Torah is truth,”[7] and hence, sometimes he makes his home outside the encampment. Without the constant complementary attribute of his brother, Aaron, who loved peace and pursued peace and was always in a state of love and brotherhood with every Israelite – he could not have led the nation. A person whose main attribute is peace is frequently forced to change the truth for the sake of peace.

In the same manner, the Mashiach needs Elijah the Prophet to accompany him. Without his complementary attribute, the redemption cannot be actualized. For the Mashiach “comes to bring the tzaddikim back to God.”[8] The Mashiach’s attribute of truth is piercing and descends to the depths of the soul. If the Mashiach has claims against the tzaddikim, how will he relate to the wicked?

Hence, Elijah the Prophet prepares for the Mashiach’s coming before his arrival. He enumerates the merits of Israel and gives the benefit of the doubt to the entire Nation of Israel. It is only after all of them have become tzaddikim that the Mashiach comes and brings them back to God with an even loftier level of teshuvah (repentance, return to God).

Rebbe Nachman of Breslev tests the attribute of truth in his famous story:[9]

Once the king said to his beloved friend, the second to the king: As I read the stars, I see that whoever eats the grain that will grow this year will become insane. Hence, let us find advice. The second to the king suggested that they should prepare grain so that they would not be forced to eat from this crop of grain. And the king answered him If so, when we alone are not insane and the entire world will be insane, then the opposite will seem true. We will be considered insane (and we cannot prepare enough grain for everyone!). Thus we will surely have to eat this grain. However, we will put a sign on our foreheads, so that at least we will know that we are insane. For when I will look at your forehead and when you will look at my forehead, we will at least know from the sign that we are crazy.

If everyone is about to be insane, it is impossible to be the only sane person. This type of sanity is a form of separating oneself from the reality of the world. Hence the proper way is to join in with everyone in the insanity while leaving some sort of sign to remind us what the truth is amidst all of the insanity. It is better to be a liar who knows that he is lying and is concerned about that, than to be a man of truth detached from all reality.

Image by Angom Geetchandra from Pixabay

[1] Psalms 83:11.

[2] Daniel 8:12.

[3] Psalms 85:12.

[4] Breishit Rabah 8:5.

[5] Proverbs 27:19.

[6] Isaiah 45:18.

[7] Tanchuma Korach 11.

[8] See Zohar Chadash Part III, 153. This version appears in a number of places in Chasidut (for example, Likutei Torah, Song of Songs 45a).

[9] Kochvei Or, wondrous stories p. 27.

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