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Thought Of The Week

Shabbat Works
Love of Truth

This Shabbat we celebrate the third of the seven Sabbaths between the 9th day of Av and Rosh HaShanah, the new year observance. From a spiritual-psychological perspective, one dimension of Rosh HaShanah is the sovereignty of the Divine. From an inner life perspective, this does not just mean acknowledging theologically (or denying) that there is God. The idea of sovereignty means that there are values that are the standard for our thoughts, feelings, speech and behavior. Even pronounced atheists often claim allegiance to truth and rationality.

Values as an authority in our lives emanate either from a Divine origin (the position of at least the Western religions and most classical western philosophic traditions, e.g., Plato, the Stoics, etc.), or from a humanistic understanding of what values lead to some arch-value, like the value of human life or human dignity. For me, the world does not divide on this issue between theists, atheists and agnostics. The world divides into those who live under the authority of values and those who don't.

The authority of values doesn't mean you always live up to the standard. The authority of value does require, however, that we admit at least to ourselves when we don't live up to our values (if truth is a value).

Conflict, from interpersonal to international, erodes the value of truth. Samuel Johnson (1709-1794, English) said "Among the calamities of war may be justly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages." This observation is usually summarized as "Truth is the first casualty of war." I prefer the more complex but less punchy version of Samuel Johnson. He wrote of the love of truth. Love of one's own self interests, one's nation, one's race, gender, political affiliation, one's religion, or those of another that one chooses to support, will often diminish the love of truth. We become credulous, gullible, when what we want things to be is more important than how things are, factually and morally.

As we move toward the High Holy Days, I think one of the core elements of the sovereignty of values is the value of truth, on its many levels. Once one values the truth more than one's own interests, transformative work can be done.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Mordecai Finley





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