“Who is God like you? Bearing iniquity and overlooking transgression for the remnant of His inheritance. He does not maintain His wrath forever, because He desires kindness. He will again have mercy upon us; He will suppress our iniquities and You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. You will give truth to Yaakov and kindness to Avraham as You took an oath to our forebears from days of old.” (Micah 7:18-20)

The three verses cited above are the climax of the book of the prophet Micah. They also constitute the central part of the Tashlich prayer that is recited on Rosh Hashanah afternoon. In fact, the prayer takes its name – Tashlich, meaning “You will cast” – from the words of Micah, “And You will cast all their sons into the depths of the sea.” Kabbalistic literature (Zohar Nasso 131, cited in Artscroll Publications Tashlich and the Thirteen Attributes by Rabbi AC Feuer) speaks of two series of God’s Attributes of Mercy: The “lower ones” as taught to Moshe after the sin of the Golden Calf (Shmot 34:6-7) and the “higher ones” or “Thirteen Tiaras of Supreme Mercy” as taught to Micah in the above passage. “Moshe spoke when Israel was being judged severely for the great sin of the Golden Calf. Therefore, Moshe cast God in the role of the strict judge who can mellow his verdict and temper harshness with compassion. Micah, however, spoke of God’s mercy in its purest form; the mercy He practises when He is pleased with Israel.” The thirteen attributes enumerated by Micah parallel the original ones and loosely correspond to them. The precise relationship of the two series is discussed only in the works of Kabbalah. Rabbi Moshe Kordevero, the great kabbalist of Safed (1522-1570), known by the initials of his name as the Ramak, wrote a short book called Tomer Devorah in which he demonstrates how a person can emulate the thirteen attributes of Micah.

The tenth attribute of Micah is contained in the words, “You will give truth to Yaakov.” This verse is recited daily towards the end of the Shacharit service and is a prayer in which we ask of God (see Rashi and Metzudot David) “to make the promise You made to Yaakov come true.” This a reference to God’s assurance to Yaakov in our parsha (Bereishit 28:14), that “your descendants will be as the dust of the earth, and you shall spread out to the west, to the east, to the north, and to the south. And all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and your descendants.” We appeal to Hashem, whose “seal is truth” to make good on his promise to Yaakov. Ibn Ezra notes that the prophet refers to Yaakov because “he is our father only.” Avraham is the ancestor of the Jewish people but he is also the father of Yishmael, the progenitor of the Arab nation. Yitzchak is the father of Yaakov but he had another son, Esau, the ancestor of the Edomites and, later, the Romans. Yaakov is the father of the twelve tribes of Israel and no other nations can claim to be his heir. 

There is another meaning of the phrase “You will give truth to Yaakov.” It implies that the primary, defining attribute of our father, Yaakov, was truth. This fits nicely with the continuation of the verse, which states, “and kindness to Avraham”. It is well-known and self-evident from several narratives in the Torah that Avraham’s primary attribute was kindness. Yaakov personified truth. He was always true to his word and whatever he promised, he delivered. He could not tolerate dishonesty, and by nature, he was not a person of deception. When discussing the twin sons of Yitzchak, the Torah (Bereishit 25:27) states, “The lads grew.  Esau was a man who knew hunting, a man of the field and Yaakov was a guileless (tam) man, living in tents.”   Rashi explains that the Torah is contrasting the character of the brothers. Esau was an expert hunter and hunting requires not a small amount of deception. Hunters trick their prey using decoys and hidden snares so that the animal will be caught unaware. Yaakov, on the other hand is an ish tam, a guileless man. Rashi notes that the word tam refers to someone who is not expert in trickery and guile: “He [Yaakov] was not expert in all this. As his heart was, so was his mouth [he was not duplicitous]”. The famous story in which Yaakov disguises himself as Esau, at the behest of his mother, to deceive his father into blessing him, is the exception that proves the rule. It is the one instance when Yaakov had to employ deception. The rest of his life exemplified honesty and truth.

In Rabbinic literature (see for example Vayikrah Rabbah 26:7), this world is called alma d’shikra, a world of falsehood, whereas the World to Come is known as alma d’kshut, the world of truth. God is concealed in the physical world. In fact, the word for world, olam, has the same root as ne’elam, concealed. We are deceived into believing that the world operates independently, with no Creator in charge. We speak of Nature, with a capital “N”, as if it is a self-sufficient entity. And mankind is full of lies, as King David said (Tehillim 116:11), “In my haste, I said: All men are false.” For a host of reasons, people will say one thing even when they believe something else in their heart. This could be because of shame, fear, self-preservation or even self-deception. The world has always been a place of falsehood, but with the advent of mass media and social-media, the sheer quantity of lies and “fake news” has reached unprecedented levels. Lies are posted online and shared and re-posted ad infinitum. Even if they are debunked and shown to be false, the lies persist because there are masses of people who ignore the truth or who did not see the original retraction.

The current ‘Simchat Torah War’ in Israel has brought to the fore just how pervasive falsehood is. It is accepted as fact in many quarters that Israel is an apartheid state that practises ethnic-cleansing, genocide and colonialism. None of these claims have any basis in reality and yet they are taken as the gospel truth.  Sadly, this proves the contention attributed to the notorious Nazi propagandist, Goebbels (may his name be blotted out), that “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” Social-media is currently awash with fake images, videos, statistics and reports of the war in Gaza. I have seen AI-generated “photographs” of scenes of destruction in Gaza City. In one picture, a boy has six fingers.  In another, a young man has two arms emerging from the same side of his body and the faces of some of the people in the picture are so bizarre as to be almost cartoonish. I have also seen a video of a photoshoot in which a young girl has fake blood smeared on her face and is given torn clothing to wear. Some pictures of Gaza are not Gaza at all – they are scenes of destruction from the civil war in Syria. But the funniest example of “Pallywood”, Palestinian fake TV, is a certain man who pops up at every crisis situation. In some scenes he is a victim, resting on a hospital bed. In other scenes, he is a doctor. In some videos he is screaming hysterically at a so-called explosion site. The man is an actor paid by Hamas. He has been exposed by a number of news channels but others continue to share the videos in which he appears. It is extremely difficult to counter the wave of falsehood that is being spread. But we should be encouraged by the words of our Sages (Shabbat 104a) who said that even though lies are pervasive, “truth will stand but falsehood will not stand.” You can only fool people for so long.

Lee, Chani Merryl and Naomi join me in wishing you Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Liebenberg

Link to Rabbi’s YouTube message for the parsha:

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