Feeling Small
The spies sent by Moses returned from their scouting mission with a negative report about Israel. They maligned the Land, suggesting that it was a hostile and unconquerable land.
To frighten the Jewish people, they referred to the giants that inhabited the land. And in their colorful description of these giants the spies declared: “We appeared like grasshoppers in our eyes and that’s how we were in their eyes.”
The Talmud asks: how did they know what the giants thought about them?
The Talmud answers that they overheard them speak of the spies as little creatures.
It is interesting to note that, contrary to the above discussion form the Babylonian Talmud, the Jerusalem Talmud does not explain how the spies knew what was in the thoughts of the Canaanite giants. Rather, the Jerusalem Talmud maintains, they fabricated this part of the story for dramatic effect.
Thus, according to the Babylonian Talmud, the spies seasoned their lies about the Land with some truths about the giants, whereas, according to the Jerusalem Talmud, their words were entirely false.
What is the crux of the truthfulness dispute between the Babylonian Talmud, which asserts that the spies were not lying about the giants’ attitude, and the Jerusalem Talmud’s assumption that they were indeed lying?
Torah Temimah understands the Babylonian Talmud’s insistence that the spies overheard the giant’s remarks and that they were telling the truth, is based on the spies’ desire to be as truthful as possible so that their lies would be believed as well.
Indeed, this pattern is mentioned explicitly in reference to their praise of the quality of the produce of the land: “it is a land of milk and honey.” The Babylonian Talmud explains that they deliberately told the truth about the produce to make their lies more believable. In the words of the Talmud (cited by Rashi) “If one wants to lie he should include words of truth.”
However, the Jerusalem Talmud does not accept this tradition and claims that the truthful words of praise concerning the land were actually uttered only by the righteous spies, Joshua and Calev.
It seems that the Jerusalem Talmud, in contrast to the Babylonian Talmud, does not ascribe to the spies any measure of truthfulness even for the sake of making their false words more believable.
What, we may ask, is the underlying premise of these two divergent views concerning the honesty of the spies?
Accessories to a Crime
One approach to this dispute can be traced to another dispute between the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds with respect to the role of the performance of a Mitzvah.
According to the Babylonian Talmud, one who builds a Sukkah does not need to recite a blessing upon completion of construction. Though it is a mitzvah to build a Sukkah, the Mitzvah is not completed until one actually dwells in the Sukkah on the first night of the holiday. The act of building a Sukkah is not the ultimate mitzvah; it is merely an accessory to the mitzvah and the blessing recited on the night of Sukkot covers the preparatory Mitzvah of building the Sukkah.
The Jerusalem Talmud maintains a different position. The Jerusalem Talmud rules that one does indeed recite a blessing on the Mitzvah of building a Sukkah. This blessing is recited before the onset of the holiday when construction of the Sukkah is complete and is a separate blessing than the one recited while eating in the Sukkah on the night of the holiday.
One explanation of this dispute is that the Babylonian Talmud considers the act of building a Sukkah to be no more than the accessory to the Mitzvah. The Jerusalem Talmud maintains that it is an indispensible part of the Mitzvah. Indeed, one cannot dwell in a Sukkah if it has not been built, so it must be an integral part of the Mitzvah, and it warrants its own blessing.
We may now understand why the Jerusalem Talmud is reluctant to value the truths told by the spies. Since the ostensible truths were accessories to subsequent lies, they too are considered to be an integral part of the web of lies and no credit can be given to them for truth-telling.
The Babylonian Talmud, however, allows bifurcation of the two parts of their report concerning the Land of Israel. The part that was truthful cannot be considered an accessory to their lies; it stands on its own two feet and is therefore judged to be truthful, notwithstanding the accompanying lies.
Emes = Consistent Truth
There is yet another way to understand the dispute between these two Talmudic traditions which will provide us with a lesson for our own times.
To better understand these divergent Talmudic views we must preface our discussion with the well known teaching of the Jerusalem Talmud that word for truth in Hebrew (emes) is a composite of the first, middle and last letters of the Hebrew Alphabet. This conveys a powerful lesson: truth can only characterized as such when it is consistent from the beginning through the middle to the end. If something breaks this chain of consistency at any point the statement under examination cannot be regarded as true, even if there is some truth in it.
Hence, the Jerusalem Talmud maintains that even if there was some truth in their statements it cannot be attributed to them because it was followed by untruths.
From the perspective of the Jerusalem Talmud, there is zero tolerance for even the slightest deviation from truth. That is why it maintains that the “truths” uttered by the evil spies cannot be characterized as truthful.
A Crack in the Wall of Darkness
The Babylonian Talmud, the Talmud of exile, takes a more nuanced view of truth. While untruths cannot be tolerated, we must give the liar some credit for any truth he or she utters, even if it is
for the sake of making his or her lies more palatable. The Babylonian Talmud is not as categorical as the Jerusalem Talmud when it comes to The Truth.
The lesson for us, living as we do in exile, is that we must appreciate even the modest attempts that one makes to be sincere about his or her Judaism. While the Babylonian Talmud certainly does not condone telling the truth to facilitate subsequent lies, it does not regard the truths themselves as lies. Once the light of truth shines through the darkness of exile, albeit even for the wrong reason, there is the hope that this light may eventually dispel that darkness.
To better understand the Babylonian Talmud’s approach, we must understand how exile itself is the greatest lie. It obfuscates the Divine reality that suffuses every bit of creation. The fact that so many are unable to see the Divine in everything is the consequence of this great falsehood.
In truth (pun intended), no matter how deeply one is ensconced in the darkness of exile, G‑d allows some of His G‑dly light to penetrate the deepest of shadows. Any parting of the veil of darkness and obfuscation should be cultivated and nurtured, not denigrated or dismissed.
In more general terms, while it is true that life in exile is a lie, G‑d has given us the ability to access truth by way of Torah study and Mitzvah observance. They represent the G‑dly force that impinges 
on and puts a dent in our exile’s obstruction of truth.
The strongest manifestation of the idea that the light of truth penetrates the darkness is the Babylonian Talmud itself. By their own admission, the Sages of the Babylonian Talmud refer to it as the Talmud of Darkness. In Hebrew, “Babylon” means “confused.” However, the Babylonian Talmud represents the beacon of G‑dly light that He has allowed to penetrate the darkness and confusion of exile. We must cherish every bit of that G‑dly light.
This is the basis for the oft quoted statement of the Babylonian Talmud that one should always engage in the study of Torah and the observance of the Mitzvos, even if it is undertaken for ulterior motives. For from the ulterior motive, one will come to perform the Mitzvah for pure motives. In other words, when we allow the light (the Mitzvah) to shine through the darkness (ulterior motive) it will eventually dispel all of the darkness. (It is noteworthy that the Jerusalem Talmud takes a similar position, but omits the word “always.” The Jerusalem Talmud seems to have adopted a more cautious view concerning the propriety of ulterior motives.)
Geulah Perspective of Truth
The Jerusalem Talmud looks at the world from an ideal Geulah-Redemptive perspective. It reveals that any truth that is not absolute and which therefore keeps us from the Promised Land, is just another mode of lie, by rigorous Geulah standards and definitions. The spies could therefore not be credited with saying something truthful even if, technically speaking, the words of praise they uttered about Israel were accurate. In the world of Geulah, the truth must be consistent and must lead inexorably to our arrival to the Promised Land. No vestige of Galus-tainted half-truths can be countenanced.
As many of these essays have stated, we are standing on the bridge between the dark and false world of Galus and the bright and truthful world of Geulah. We are therefore exposed to two diametrically opposite phenomena.
On one hand we see darkness, lies and pain. On the other, we are witness to unprecedented goodness, integrity, sincerity and consistency. If one may coin a phrase, we are living in the “Babylonian-Jerusalem Talmudic era,” where both dynamics co-exist.
We must therefore uphold the Babylonian Talmud’s approach and cherish every bit of light that pierces through the darkness and encourage every gesture of good, no matter how lacking it might be in consistency and altruism. This will facilitate getting rid of the last vestiges of darkness that still prevails. At the same time, we must forcefully advocate the Jerusalem Talmud’s pursuit of unsullied, unmitigated and uncompromising truth for the sake of truth, because we are so very close to that time when G‑d’s presence will be fully revealed throughout the entire world.