By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
President Donald Trump met with Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea. Apparently, Mr. Kim promised to start dismantling his country’s nuclear program. Mr. Trump was asked if he believed that Mr. Kim would really follow through with his promises. Mr. Trump replied, “Honestly, I think he’s going to do these things. I may be wrong. I mean, I may stand before you in six months and say, ‘Hey, I was wrong.’ I don’t know that I’ll ever admit that, but I’ll find some kind of an excuse.”
President Trump finds it hard to utter the words “I made a mistake.” In a moment of brutal honesty, he even publicly stated that he doesn’t know if he could admit to making a mistake. The BBC offered the following commentary: “This line — a president admitting that he may not admit to mistakes — raised more than a few eyebrows, but it’s part of what makes Mr. Trump so irresistible to his supporters. They thoroughly believe that all politicians lie, that they all will never admit mistakes, that they all say whatever they think voters want to hear. Mr. Trump, at least, in their estimation, is being open about it. He is, in effect, letting them in on the joke.” The general populace understands that their leaders are all liars and can’t admit to being wrong.
We would never ascribe such an awful trait to a tzaddik.
The Torah records a conversation that took place between Aharon HaKohen and Moshe Rabbeinu. Some of the finer points of the argument are in dispute. However, it is clear that the meat of the rosh chodesh sacrifice that was offered on Rosh Chodesh Nissan in the second year after Klal Yisrael left Egypt was burnt. Moshe Rabbeinu felt that this was improper. Aharon HaKohen successfully defended himself and explained his actions. He argued based on his understanding of halachah that the rosh chodesh korban could not be eaten that day due to the tragic death of his two sons. Therefore, the holy sacrificial meat needed to be burned. Whereupon the pasuk states, “And Moshe heard [the argument] and it was pleasing in his eyes.”
The Gemara (Zevachim 101a) praises the fact that Moshe Rabbeinu did not lie and claim he did not hear the halachah that, due to Aharon’s mourning, the korban could not be eaten. Rather, he unabashedly told the truth and admitted that he heard the halachah from Hashem but had subsequently forgotten it. The Chochmas HaMitzpun questions this simple understanding of the Gemara. Was it really a possibility that Moshe Rabbeinu would utter a blatant lie? It’s true that for President Trump admitting a mistake could take courage and fortitude, but for Moshe Rabbeinu this was hardly a nisayon. Why does the Gemara praise Moshe Rabbeinu for simply telling the truth?
The Chochmas HaMitzpun explains that Moshe Rabbeinu had every reason to lie. Even when Moshe was totally honest, Korach still accused him of fabricating directives from Hashem and inventing mitzvos. All the more so if Moshe Rabbeinu would publicly admit that he forgot something Hashem taught him! Members of Klal Yisrael could rightfully argue he is just a fallible human being. The entire Torah was transmitted through Moshe Rabbeinu save the first two commandments of the Decalogue. Now people could say that perhaps he forgot other items as well.
Moshe Rabbeinu would not have lied for his own sake; it would have been for the sake of the Torah! It would be to prevent another tragic rebellion. Yet, deep down, Moshe Rabbeinu knew the logic was somehow faulty. Ultimately, behind all the excuses, the reason to lie was to save his own honor and dignity. Everyone else would have been comfortable uttering a falsehood with the justification that it was for the sake of Hashem. Moshe Rabbeinu saw through all that with acute mental clarity. That is the greatness of Moshe Rabbeinu. He was not swayed by subconscious motivational factors.
All throughout life we are constantly faced with choices. Sometimes the choices are not clear-cut as right and wrong. Ultimately, the challenge is to learn from Moshe Rabbeinu and see what is really driving our decisions. Is the choice really correct or do we only wish it to be correct because that is the more comfortable path?
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.