16 Oct Bereshit: Can a world be created with truth?
According to the midrash, God considered creating a world based on emet, truth; seeing that such a world could not survive, God hurled truth into the earth and created the world based on hesed, generosity, instead.
I was struck this week, listening to the discussion of a judge’s role, by the contrast between the American and Jewish legal traditions. My impression is that the American ideal is to be objective, and rule by the letter of the law. The Talmud actually says that Jerusalem was “only destroyed because they judged according to the law.” (Bava Metzia 30). The Gemara asks, aren’t judges supposed to do this? The answer is, judges did not go “beyond the letter of the law.” In other words, judges in the Jewish tradition are encouraged to act out of hesed, generosity.
The following incident is reported on Bava Metzia 83a about Rabba bar bar Ḥanan:
Certain porters broke his barrel of wine after he had hired them to transport the barrels. He took their cloaks as payment for the lost wine. They came and told Rav. Rav said to Rabba bar bar Ḥanan: Give them their cloaks. Rabba bar bar Ḥanan said to him: Is this the halakha? Rav said to him: Yes, as it is written: “That you may walk in the way of good men” (Prov 2:20). Rabba bar bar Ḥanan gave them their cloaks. The porters said to Rav: We are poor people and we toiled all day and we are hungry and we have nothing. Rav said to Rabba bar bar Ḥanan: Go and give them their wages. Rabba bar bar Ḥanan said to him: Is this the halakha? Rav said to him: Yes, as it is written: “And keep the paths of the righteous”
In other words, a judge in the Jewish legal tradition not only implements the laws on the books, but also strives to create a world of goodness and righteousness, bringing hesed into the world and, by doing so, being a partner with God.
May all of us emphasize hesed over emet, love over truth, and in doing so, partner with God in the creation of the world.