“Be strong and let your heart have courage” (Joshua 1:6).
In Jewish tradition, we are told we must have the courage to challenge decisions and viewpoints even if we had previously supported them. We are enjoined to struggle to seek other perspectives and constantly reassess our decisions as we learn new information.
In Genesis, Jacob wrestled with an angel and received the new name of Israel, which means “wrestling with God.” Two core principles in Judaism are that we should always stand for the truth, and we must struggle with, question and re-evaluate our positions if necessary.
“Know that truth and righteousness are the ornaments of the soul, and they provide the individual with everlasting courage and confidence” (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon).
We have all occasionally faced situations where we had to make a decision to either continue supporting a viewpoint or realize we had been wrong and admit our mistake.
Acknowledging an error takes courage, but to make sure our world is based on a foundation of truth, we must resolve to be strong. If we learn what we have supported is untrue, we must proclaim the truth and make sure that those who continue to spread that falsehood are revealed.
It can be embarrassing and humiliating to accept that we have been misled, and it’s tempting to save face by refusing to acknowledge our error. However, if we don’t struggle to uncover the truth, we become complicit in the lie.
When we don’t have the courage to be honest, we may turn to denial, claim ignorance and even vilify those who are exposing the truth, labeling them our “enemies.”
One of the dangers of continuing to spread a false narrative is that it becomes so pervasive it is accepted as the truth, and therefore difficult to “undo” the damage it causes.
“Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth,” is a law of propaganda often attributed to the Nazi Joseph Goebbels.
Once a lie takes hold, it spreads like wildfire and the truth is buried in the flames.
As Mark Twain purportedly said, “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
The longer someone continues perpetrating a falsehood, it becomes more difficult to admit the truth.
Rabbi Solomon Bruer recognized the strength needed to acknowledge one’s mistakes: ”Only he who has the courage to face up to his own wrongdoing and determines to change his ways will find divine mercy.”
The difficulty of admitting one has been conned into supporting a corrupt scheme is commonly known.
“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth … It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back” (Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World).
Our lives feel upended and chaotic when we see people willing to accept deception and lies, and refusing to embrace the truth. We must become like Jacob and wrestle to uncover the truth so we can put our world on firmer ground.
“Truth is one of the very foundations upon which the world stands. As this is so, if you speak falsely it is as if you are nudging at the world’s foundation” (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto).
May we always engage in the struggle to maintain the foundation of our world with truth, follow the admonition in Exodus to “Keep distant from falsehood” and in Psalms to “Depart from evil, do good, seek peace and pursue it.”
Kein yehi ratzon … may it be God’s will. Shalom
Issues of Faith is a rotating column by religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. Suzanne DeBey is a lay leader of the Port Angeles Jewish community. Her email is [email protected]