In Pursuit of the Truth

Qualification for Judges


Yisro, Moses’ father-in-law, admonished Moses for the way he unilaterally judged the Jewish people. He encouraged him to delegate responsibility to lower courts. Moses consulted with G‑d and the Jewish multi-tiered judicial system became a reality.


Yisro did not only suggest the idea of appointing other judges. He also advised Moses about their  qualifications. One of the requirements was for the judges to be “men of truth.”


It is quite startling that Yisro had to mention this condition for judgeship. Would it have occurred to anyone in his or her right mind that one could appoint a dishonest judge?


In truth (no pun intended), the term for truth in Hebrew, which is emes is not what it means in English. In English the word truth and lie are antonyms. In Hebrew there are about a half-dozen antonyms to the word emes.


To be sure, lying is certainly the opposite of emes.  But, so are the words: inconsistency, peripheral, superficial and many more.




To understand what Emes truly (pun intended) denotes and connotes it is important that we cite the Jerusalem Talmud’s exposition of the word emes. Emes, the Talmud states, is a composite of three letters; an aleph, mem andtav. The aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the mem is the middle letter and the tav is the final letter. This is what Emes is: Consistent from the beginning through the middle to the end. Whether we are dealing with a person or a concept; it is only worthy of the appellation emes when it is totally consistent.


To better appreciate the various nuance of Emes and its opposite, sheker, let us analyze the very names of the letters that comprise these two words.


The word sheker begins with the letter shin. This word is related to the word shein which means tooth. In fact, the letter shin resembles the teeth and it requires the use of the teeth to pronounce.

The Talmud (Bava Kamma 3a) discusses the tort called shein, when an animal uses its teeth to devour someone else’s food. This tort is rooted in the Torah where it discusses the case of an animal that grazes in someone else’s’ property. The Torah uses the word bee’air to describe the destruction it wrought. And the Talmud proves that this word is related to destruction caused by teeth. The proof it adduces is from the Biblical statement, “As the galal devours until its end. The word galal,  Rashi states  actually means human or animal waste, which is created by, and therefore a byproduct, of the tooth!


At first glance this association seems to be far-fetched, but it conveys a profound philosophical truth about what is sheker, the initial of which is a shin-shain-tooth. Something that looks appealing and appetizing does not end up that way. This is emblematic of the physical world, where everything eventually disintegrates and ceases to exist the way it does at the outset.

This is the first lesson of sheker and its reverse-emes.




If we look at the material world and all its interest they are but fleeting pleasures. They all end up the same and they are not emes. To be emes one must look not at the present but at the past and future as well. Emes is something that endures with the same intensity and beauty as it did on day one.


The first letter of the word emes, the aleph, is the antithesis of the letter shin in this regard. Whereas the shin indicates something you can get “your teeth into” for the moment, you cannot sustain that in the future. The Aleph by contrast means Master, alluding to G‑d who is the ultimate Master of the world and is not subject to the whims and caprices of any other force.


Moreover, the very shape of the letter aleph alludes to G‑d’s mastery over past present and future.  The aleph is a composite of two letters yud that are joined by the letter vav. These three letters that constitute the shape of the aleph, have the numerical value of G‑d’s name, known as the Tetragrammaton. This name is a composite of the three words:haya-was, hoveh-is and yihye-will be, suggesting that G‑d is master over the entire expanse of time. G‑d and all that is associated with Him does not get old and worn out.


The letter Aleph also alludes to the concept of peleh, a wonder. The aleph symbolizes the wonder of the Creator Who endures forever.


Monkey Sheker


The second letter and lesson of the word sheker is the letter kuf. The word kuf or kof is monkey or ape. It is so called because it closely resembles the letter hei, which is one of the letters of G‑d’s name. While the hei the kuf “apes” and mimics the hei.


This is the second characteristic of sheker. While there is nothing false in the art of imitation it is nevertheless inauthentic. The external appearance belies the inner nature of the person who lacks emes.


The Talmud relates the story of how Rabbi Gamliel would only allow a select few students into the academy because the standard of acceptance was that the applicant be one “whose inside was like his outside.”




This second characteristic of sheker is countered by the second letter of emes, the mem. The mem is unique in that the letter is spelled phonetically by repeating the same letter. This implies that mem personalities are the same on the inside as they are on the outside. There are no pretenses; no facades.


The word mem and its shape is like mayim, which means water or a Mikveh, a pool of water-a. This is an allusion to such time abut which the prophet states, “the world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the sea.” This refers to the total inundation of the world. It will be deluged with knowledge. Not just the outside but also the inside.


The first lesson of sheker is that it may be good now but it doesn’t last. The second lesson is that even now it is only superficially good.


The Impoverished Reish of Sheker


The third lesson derives from the last letter reish. This letter means impoverished. So spiritually and morally deprived that he or she doesn’t even have the superficial veneer of integrity. In Hebrew, not surprisingly, there are many synonyms for poor. But of all the synonyms, the letter reish is identified with the verse :”And the rosh-poor person has nothing. He doesn’t even have the modicum of integrity of the kuf, the imitator brand of sheker.


The opposing letter in the word emes is the tav. The word tav means a mark or a sign that was employed in the past to brand someone. According to the Talmud it was used to bran someone with the word tichyeh, “he will live,” which is also an allusion to the Resurrection of the Dead, at which time we will live forever. And whereas the reish, the totally impoverished individual, is bereft of life—as the Talmud says that a poor person is like a dead person—the tav is G‑d’s mark guaranteeing life in its fullest and richest sense.


The letter tav, written with lines in every direction, similar to the hei, is a symbol of wealth and is in opposition to the reish, the ultimate symbol of poverty.


The Psalmists states: “Send Your light and your emes.” According to the Midrash, light refers to Elijah the prophet and “emes” refers to Moshiach.


In light of the above we can understand why Moshiach is characterized as emes.


Moshiach: the Embodiment of Emes


Moshiach possesses the three components of this virtue.


First, Moshiach is one that is a master of his body and environment.  As stated in a preceding message, Moshiach depiction as a poor man riding on a donkey is actually a reference to his mastery over the material and ephemeral aspects of physical life. He possesses the aleph-master of emes and he therefore is eminently qualified to place the aleph in the word golah-exile that renders it Geulah-Redemption.


Moshiach is also one whose entire being is permeated with Torah. His inside is just like his outside. As such he will usher in the age that will be deluged with the knowledge of G‑d. No part of the human being will be left outside of the water. This knowledge will totally permeate our entire being. This coincides with the letter mem of the word emes.


And finally, according to the Midrash, Moshiach will accumulate all the wealth in the world. This is to be understood in spiritual terms that he will be endowed with the greatest spiritual treasures. And he will therefore usher in the age about which it is stated, “the delicacies will be as abundant as the dust of the earth.” The ultimate state of wealth is when Moshiach will usher in the period of the Resurrection of the Dead. The world will then, be marked with eternal life and experience ultimate emes on all levels.


One way of preparing for this age is to endeavor to introduce emes consistency, harmony between the inside and the outside and the acquisition of enduring spiritual wealth.