A gentleman recently shared a few words with me. He asked me what emet means. He then went into a short story about how one saw an event that seemed harsh. But the one who saw it didn’t have context and didn’t see the first and second event that led to this harsh occurrence. The gentleman explained that emet is only when you have the final story and it is the letters that convey this message. The aleph, mem and tof are the first, middle and last letters of the alphabet. You only know the emet, true story, when you reach the end of all events.
My uncle, Rabbi Genack, in a different context quotes the Gemara (Shabbos 104a) that points out that the letters of emet are spread out whereas the letters of sheker are near each other. My uncle explains that truth only exists from a collection of different points of view, not just one narrow-minded opinion. This fortifies the gentleman’s idea as it is only with varied experience that real truth can emerge.
The gentleman’s idea of seeing life in its full spectrum made me immediately think about the fusion of time and a certain gematria.
The Mishna (Bava Kamma 26a) states, “Adam muad le’olam—Man is forever warned.” In areas of negligence this means that man is liable even for accidental acts that cause damage because he has a greater ability to be cognizant of his actions. Looking at the gematria, the word muad equals 120. It would now translate to mean that man’s time of 120 is le’olam, forever. Indeed, the beginning, middle and end of life equals a 120 that lives on for eternity
Notwithstanding that the truth emerges at the end, there is still truth in every moment. One of the greatest gifts bequeathed by God to His people was the chance to achieve salvation in a moment. Many have acquired their full place in the next world by taking advantage of the moment.
With two of the Avot we see the accentuating and even superseding of time in the moment, and with a third we see the utilization of time in the moment and in totality.
Avraham was a thinker, constantly searching for the truth. Every moment was personified by great focus and determination. This mindset led directly to God’s palace. We read that Avraham was “ba bayamim.” Metaphorically, Avraham “walked into his days.” He took full advantage of each day and was blessed with everything.
Yitzchak is an Av who superseded time, for in the present it’s as if his ashes stand before God. The Akeida transformed him into an eternally spiritual character who lived above time. But he only achieved this status by taking advantage of the moment and giving himself over to be sacrificed. It’s logical then that it’s Yitzchak at the end of time who comes to defend Bnei Yisrael from God’s demand for repayment of sins. The Gemara (Shabbos 89b) explains how Yitzchak first tries to represent that we barely have any real time to serve God, and for whatever sins remain, Yitzchak says that he offers to take them upon himself. Only one who is above time can beseech God for those who are bound by time.
Yaakov was “bechir ha-avot—the choicest of the forefathers” (Midrash Sechel Tov, Genesis 33) and personified emet. Why was Yaakov truth? The Rambam (Hilchot Sechirut 13:7) describes Yaakov as the ultimate worker. He worked for Lavan without wasting time. Yaakov was pure truth when it came to time. There was never any theft in his utilization of time. This explains the Chofetz Chaim’s explanation on Rashi, where Rashi adds that Yaakov didn’t learn from the actions of Lavan. Many say this is a praiseworthy statement about Yaakov that he didn’t learn from Lavan’s ways. The Chofetz Chaim, however, says Yaakov is giving himself mussar by wondering why he didn’t learn from the passion for evil that Lavan had and applied it to his actions for himself. Even Yaakov was questioning his own use of time, somehow believing he could have utilized the moment in an even more meaningful fashion.
But Yaakov also stands for the full picture of emet. He wanted to reveal the ketz (end of days, the coming of Moshiach), as he was in touch with the end and didn’t want his children to suffer through the unknowns of history. But that didn’t happen. So now we must utilize the other time paradigm of finding truth in the moment, and Yaakov himself provides the route for that as well, for he was an ish tam. We must be tamim and not look into the future, but rather be subservient to the present and make every moment count.
Another Avraham, Rav Avraham Genachowski, zt”l, previous rosh yeshiva of Tshebin, transformed every moment and dedicated it to pure chesed. When burying his son, he worked on finding a ride for someone to get home. His own time was devoted to others. He once told his family that the only question they should ask themselves at every moment is what are they doing to help someone else.
Another Yaakov, Rabbi Yakov Nagen (Genack), experienced two stories where he saw the end in real life and though the absolute truth of these incidents will ultimately be revealed, there was adequate information to understand the sanctity of the endings.
At a visit to the OU, he relayed that on the Friday night before Dafna Meir a”h was murdered, he gave a drasha on the importance to not let time “machmitz,” elongate, but rather to take action and effectuate change immediately. The next morning Dafna Meir a”h told my cousin that his drasha had a great impact on her and that she now adapted such a stance, realizing the need to take action immediately in all things with the knowledge that every moment counts. Indeed, for the last full day of her life she mastered the moment and must have lived every moment to the fullest.
In a second incident, he relays in one of his books that in a shiur at Yeshivat Otniel, he asked, “Why is there a specific mitzvah to wash the ‘hands’ and ‘feet’ in the morning?” One of the students answered based on the verse “Whenever they enter the tent of meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die. Also, when they approach the Altar to minister by presenting a food offering to the Lord” (Exodus 30:20). The student explained that to “come” to the Mikdash one must propel his feet, and to “serve” in the Mikdash one must use his hands correctly. In summation, the student said, one must cause his feet to go in the right direction and prepare his hands properly so as to carry out the mission properly.
The student who gave this answer was Staff Sergeant Noam Apter, a”h, who along with Gabriel Hoter, a”h, Zvi Ziemen, a”h, and Corporal Yehuda Bamberger, a”h, were murdered on December 27, 2002, when militants entered the kitchen of Yeshivat Otniel where these men were preparing food for the rest of the yeshiva, who were dancing in the dining room.
The militants never made it to the dining room because Staff Sergeant Noam Apter, a”h, locked the sliding door separating the kitchen and the dining room.
Indeed, that night Staff Sergeant Noam Apter, a”h, used his hands and feet properly to carry out the highest of missions, to die al kiddush Hashem and save over 100 students and faculty.
Knowing that every moment carries truth and must be taken advantage of, it seems imperative to infuse every moment with kedusha so that in the end, when the full picture emerges, we will see beauty in our small but qualitative strokes.
Steven Genack is the upcoming author of “Articles, Anecdotes & Insights: Geneach/Genechovsky Torah” with Gefen Publishing House.