middot truth mesorah truth muscles

truth muscles

Written by  rabbi benjamin ehrenfeld

art-emet-truthThe Hebrew word for “true”, emet, occurs six times in the concluding portion of the Shema section of shacharit. In fact, it is the first word spoken after the third paragraph of the Shema (Numbers 15). The central placement of the word in the concluding portion of the Shema gives us a glimpse into our sages’ deepest values about our relationship with God. While there is no doubt that truth is embedded in all of the davening, the Shema itself is a very specific kind of statement about God and our relationship with him. The Truth expressed in the words of the Shema must be reiterated so as to embed its message into the mind and heart of the one davening.

What is so true about the message of the Shema? Here are a few answers:

  1. The absolute uniqueness and unity of God
  2. The uniqueness of God’s relationship with the Jewish people
  3. The ongoing validity of Torah for the Jewish people
  4. The covenantal terms between the Jewish people and God


This is all very theological, and seemingly esoteric. While it is true, it may not seem to have much practical implication for building our character. The reason it may not seem practical on the surface is because most of us are not accustomed to reflecting on the ways in which speech impacts our interactions. The human brain is a storehouse of information that is significantly impacted by every single thing we come in contact with. What we read, hear, and say impacts how we relate to the world. Some of the most damaging elements of abusive relationships are the words that are spoken to hurt and manipulate while the some of the most positive relationships develop with words of kindness.  What we say has an impact.

When we recite the Shema and follow with reciting the word emet over and over again, we are exercising our truth muscles. If we learn to recognize ultimate truth we are much more able to connect to truth in the moment. Our God is the True God. When we verbally connect to truth in our vertical relationship with God, this spills over into our horizontal relationships with others. So I encourage all us to really focus on the word emet in our davening, so that we can truly be the people of God.

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