Nearly all children are taught to tell the truth. The very seal of G-d is truth, says the Gemara, and the Midrash proclaims that the Torah was given to the generation that left Egypt because it was an honest one – a dor yesharim.
But life presents numerous opportunities to lie, and some people are tempted to take advantage of them. A new organization – the Sefas Tamim Foundation – aims to help people resist this urge. Through a series of projects, articles, and school curricula, it hopes to underscore the importance of adhering to truth.
The Jewish Press recently interviewed Boruch Delman, who established the foundation in late 2020.
The Jewish Press: What’s your background?
I’m from Silver Spring, Maryland. For high school, I went to Yeshiva High School of Greater Washington and then learned in Eretz Yisrael for a year. After that, I went to a branch of the Chofetz Chaim yeshiva in Milwaukee and then to Chofetz Chaim in Forest Hills.
My father is a retired federal judge, and my great uncle, zt”l, was Rav Menachem Manis Mandel, the founder of Yeshiva of Brooklyn. He was known for many things, including his ehrlichkeit and honesty, so I guess maybe [veneration of emes] is in my blood.
What made you think of founding the Sefas Tamim Foundation?
Baruch Hashem, there are organizations on chesed, tznius, talking in shul, lashon hara, etc. but until the founding of the Sefas Tamim Foundation, there weren’t really any organizations or initiatives devoted exclusively to emes.
People often quote the pasuk “netzor leshonacha mera usfasecha midaber mirmah.” We have organizations working on the first half of this pasuk – the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation, for example, has been very successful [in stressing the importance of not] speaking lashon hara.
I felt the need to work on the second half of the pasuk: guarding your lips from speaking untruth and deceit.
Some people think it’s okay to be less than fully honest when it comes to dealing with non-Jews. What’s your opinion?
The Sefer Chassidim says that a person is supposed to conduct himself with a non-Jew the same way he conducts himself with a Jew. The Sefer Chassidim is not a halacha sefer, but it’s a hashkafa sefer that provides guidance on how we should relate to others.
There are certain halachos around emes – when a person must tell the truth, when there is a dispensation not to tell the truth, etc. But emes is more than just a halacha.
We don’t usually ask: What are the halachos about being arrogant? What are the halachos about being a kafui tov [an ingrate]? There aren’t that many halachos about being arrogant or an ingrate because it’s more than that. It’s a midah. So one of the goals of the foundation is to stress the midas ha’emes, the positive trait of being an emesdi’ke, truthful person. And being a truthful person means being truthful with everyone.
I think sometimes we get caught up in specific circumstances – what is the halacha in this case? But instead of asking, “What do I have to do?” perhaps we should be asking, “What should I do?”
When parents look for a shidduch for their children, they look for someone with ah’le maalos, but the Orchos Tzadikim says there’s no bigger maaleh than speaking the truth – which would appear to mean that we need to be truthful all the time, not just when halacha requires it.
Even decent people sometimes feel tempted to fudge the truth in certain situations. For example, someone working for a yeshiva or non-profit organization may be tempted to tell a mini lie on an application for a federal grant figuring that it’s silly for a worthy institution to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars over a minor factual matter. How would you advise someone not to fall into this temptation?
If it’s a legitimate grey area, a person should ask his rav or rebbe.
But there’s also a bitachon element involved. A person has to have bitachon that ultimately what’s destined to come to him is decided on Rosh Hashanah and will come to him whether he shades the truth or not.
Do you think people perhaps sometimes lie because they’ve grown too enamored of the “Yiddishe kup,” the “clever Jewish head,” which comes up with all sorts of interesting workarounds?
I think people are a little too clever sometimes, but what it really comes back to is not appreciating the midas ha’emes enough because a proper appreciation of emes would counteract any sort of undue cleverness.
I’ll share with you a short story. A friend of mine is a working man who was studying for a licensing test that would help him advance in his job or get a better one. He really needed to pass the test, but his employer was strict about taking time off.
Many people would just say, “What’s the big deal? Say you’re sick and stay home for a day.” But this person said, “I can’t do that. I’m a Jew. I have to speak emes.” So he decided to ask for a private day.
He was nervous because maybe it wouldn’t be granted and then he wouldn’t be able to study and pass the test and he’d be stuck at the same job. But a person has to have bitachon that he’s going to get what’s [destined for] him, and if it’s not [destined], he’s not going to get it even if he does shade the truth.
So he asked for a private day, it was granted, and he studied and passed the test.
Have you ever heard of Rav Raphael Bershader (1751-1827)? He apparently was so careful never to utter a falsehood that if he was asked, “Is it raining?” after walking into a home from the rain, he would reply, “When I was outside, it was raining” – in case it had stopped raining after he had walked in.
I think that’s a great story. There’s a similar story with a gadol – I don’t remember which one. If it was roughly 1:00 and he was asked, “What time is it?” he would reply, “It’s around 1:00.” Now, there’s no halacha that you can’t say it’s 1:00 if it’s really 1:01, but it’s just a sensitivity to emes….
[In contrast, when someone comes late to a meeting, it can be due to a lack of sensitivity to emes.] When we tell someone we’ll meet him at 1:00, we can mean 12:55 or 1:05, but if a person comes at 1:20, it would seem that there’s a lack of emes there. Rabbi Paysach Krohn used this example in one of the articles he wrote on behalf of the foundation.
Is it assur to come at 1:20? [Probably not.] But there’s a midas ha’emes, and when a person says something, he should follow through.
What practically speaking is your foundation doing to spread its message?
We have a number of projects coming up, im yirtzeh Hashem. So far, we’ve placed ads and articles in several frum newspapers about the importance of truth that were written by Rabbi Paysach Krohn, Rabbi Yissochar Frand, and Rabbi Ephraim Shapiro.
After Pesach, we will be circulating a free emes newsletter, and we also hope to design emes signs. The Orchos Tzaddikim in Shaar HaEmes says that a wise person should always have emes in front of him – “tadir tasim ha’emes le’umasecha.” He says a person should write signs for himself and take them with him to work, to the beis medrash, to the Shabbos table, etc. so that he is sensitive to always tell the truth. We plan on creating such signs for distribution.
Down the line, we also hope to partner with others to develop a curriculum for students so that they learn from a young age about the importance of emes.