Emet versus Sheker – Truth versus Falsehood

Countless people across the globe watched their TV screens in shock this week at the terrifying events broadcast to the world from the US Capitol building. The shock has not subsided, and many have been left with enormous anxiety about what happens next. I was very inspired by a text shared on a forum of rabbis, cantors and community leaders – Dreaming Up 5871 – dedicated to creative sharing of resources and prayers in the context of the pandemic and our present Zoom reality. In response to the events in Washington D.C., Rabbi David Winship of Temple Beth David (Canton, MA) shared a reflection from the Jewish tradition (Midrash Yalkut Shimoni, Genesis, 3) about the words ‘emet - truth’ and ‘sheker - falsehood’.


I posted his reflection and his prayer on our Facebook page IJC@Home, but was then curious about the rabbinical source itself so I dug a little deeper.  The rabbis in this midrash observe that the letters of ‘emet - truth’ – aleph, mem, tav – all stand on two legs and are the first, middle and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet, spread out and inclusive. The letters of ‘sheker - falsehood’ – shin, kof and resh – are conveniently combined at the end of the alphabet and only stand on one leg. Truth is stable on two legs, but hard to grasp because it is so broad and inclusive, falsehood totters on one leg, but it is easy to grasp because it is narrow and exclusive. 

In a world of uncertainty and anxiety, we have never needed the stability and inclusivity of truth more. It will help us imitate the letters of the Hebrew word, stand on two feet, and recognise that truth is never simple, but always broad, complex and inclusive – a whole alphabet wide. Frustration with this reality often inclines us to grasp for the easy answer, which is often narrow, standing on one leg, and exclusive. I wish you the capacity to discern between emet and sheker.

And on a More Personal Note…

You might have noticed that I’ve not been leading services the last couple of weeks. As I enter the final sprint of my rabbinical training, I should have travelled to Israel for six months to study at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem, but the Covid situation forced these studies online. So, I’m still here in Belgium, and about to continue my programme from home. It’s a serious undertaking, up to thirty hours a week of Talmud, Midrash and Halakha - the equivalent of a full year squashed into five months. 

So I’m still here, still doing all the things a rabbi does, and still available to you whenever you need me, but for the first six months of 2021 I will not be leading services or festival events, with the exception of two Bnei Mitzvah coming up in February and March, and I will participate in the Refugee Shabbat in March which was postponed from last year. And I might pop onto your Zoom screen from time to time for specific events, but I’m grateful to those who have stepped up to help me create the time and space for extra study.

For example, late last year I sent out a request for volunteers to lead our Torah Breakfasts through May 2021. To my amazement – but not surprise – I quickly had more volunteers than available Torah Breakfasts.  The very fact that IJC has a membership with the strengths and skills to do this is a sign of our continued growth, volunteer energy and vigour as a community.

Brian Doyle-Du Breuil

IJC Rabbinical Intern