Truth and Repentance – Psalm 51:7
One of the opening statements in the Jewish daily liturgy is more of an admonition than a prayer. It reads as follows: “A person should always be reverential of heaven in private and in public, acknowledging the truth and speaking the truth in his heart.”
The activity of “acknowledging the truth” is foundational to our journey in life. Acknowledging the truth is putting aside falsehood and aligning ourselves with the truth. The falsehood we need to put aside may be an act that we committed or it can be a belief that we have accepted. We may be very attached to that falsehood. Our honor, our money, our stability in life may be bound up with that falsehood. But acknowledging the truth means breaking clean from what is wrong and realigning ourselves with what is true.
Acknowledging truth means being able to apologize and admit wrongdoing. Acknowledging the truth means being able to accept criticism. And acknowledging the truth means being able to realign our lives with the reality of God’s truth.
Acknowledging the truth is intrinsically an act of redefining oneself. We cling to falsehood because we feel that our honor and our sense of self-worth is tied up with the act that we have committed, with the words that we spoke, with beliefs that we maintained or with ideals that we were committed to. When we abandon a falsehood and we acknowledge the truth we are essentially saying: “I am not what I did, I am not what I believed and I am not what I thought. I am a lover of truth. I am a servant of the God of truth and I am one who strives to align my life with His truth. That is me and this is my essence.”
When we acknowledge the truth not only do we enrich our own lives but we enrich the lives of those around us. This is especially true in relation to the people who are still growing in their understanding of life.
A large part of the emotional life of a child is the encounter with criticism. It may not be outright criticism but it is certainly correction. Children are children and they make mistakes. (Adults also make mistakes but children have a more difficult time denying the reality of their mistakes. The adults around them often magnify the mistakes that the children make and the internal defense mechanism that adults activate upon making a mistake is not yet fully developed in the mind of a child.) If our children don’t see an example of acknowledging truth or of accepting criticism then they never learn how to handle correction in a healthy way. If the adults around then are always blaming others for their own mistakes, justifying their errors and turning their wrongdoings into ideals then that is what the child will imitate.
Worse yet is the fact that if we refuse to acknowledge mistakes then the children around us learn that self-worth is measured by our actions and words and is not something intrinsic to our being. By acknowledging truth; not only do we give the children around us the necessary tool to handle criticism, we also teach them a real sense of self-worth.
When a child observes an adult acknowledging the truth the child then learns that the adult does not measure herself by her actions but rather the child senses that the adult has a stronger sense of self-worth that is not measured by the transitory. The child will learn that their own self-worth is something intrinsic to themselves and can never be taken from them. They will come to recognize that our yearning for truth is the breath of God in our nostrils and that this desire is the reality of our being.
Acknowledging truth means being able to say: “I’m sorry”; without “ifs” “ands” or “buts”. Apologizing to a child is perhaps one of the greatest gifts you can share with him or her. First; you are teaching the child the rare art of apologizing. Second; you will be teaching the child that their feelings that were hurt are valid and valuable to the degree that an adult will put his or her own honor aside to acknowledge the validity of the child’s sense of justice. And finally and perhaps most importantly; you are teaching the child that you don’t define yourself according to your actions, but rather, that you define yourself as a seeker of truth and justice and as one who submits to truth and justice when you discover them – no matter the consequences. The child will then see a sense of self-worth worth emulating.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal