Emet – Truth.
March 15, 2024
By Cantor-Rabbi Penny S. Myers

The colloquialism “speak your truth” is confounding to me because my conception is different than how many might interpret its meaning. Over the past several years, being asked for ‘my truth’ left me bewildered as it felt, and still feels, fake and intrusive. Allow me to explain, the dissonance of ‘my’ truth and ‘the’ truth is akin to when a person asks you how you’re feeling or doing. Does anyone really and truly care to hear anything other than “I’m fine”? No, not really. Moreover, does anyone want to know or hear about someone’s ‘truth’? My opinion on ‘speaking your truth’ comes from the psychological and emotional events in which an individual can articulate their experience during a specific time.

In 2017, Richard Cremo Jr wrote: “All of us are guilty at times of telling people what they want to hear but when it’s our default habit, we’re defaulting to being inauthentic plus sometimes we tell people what we think they want to hear because we hope that they will reciprocate and then feel very aggrieved when they are honest and we aren’t spared from conflict or criticism.”

I wonder if it’s a way we’ve been socialized; a learned behavioral norm, something we can tick off the boxes upon our daily lists. Furthermore, when an elaboration is offered, it’s often in conflict with what the asker desires to hear. Speaking “my truth” is different from fact-based “truth” and for most of us, learning about the authentic truth is often shocking.

Does anyone really and truly want to hear ‘someone’s’ truth? I’m not convinced because we don’t want to know how our ‘truths’ (not factual or evidence-based truth aka ‘the truth’) and causation from others’ actions have caused irreparable damage and harm. For me, however, I cannot offer anything but the truth.

It’s unfortunate that it’s easier to live with comfortable lies, than to live with uncomfortable truths. We don’t want to know that people are fallible, that terrible transgressions are made, and significant harm was done simply by the words used when speaking truth. It’d be too traumatizing, take too much energy and time to repair the harms inflicted when we go against the grain of what Torah, Talmud and Sages have taught us.

Rather, I have learned from the inactions of others who actively chose not to follow our sages teachings that cowardice and ego are the foundations of not taking accountability. I have found that it is so much easier to make the choice to ignore the factual truth rather than identify, take ownership, and repair transgressions. This is where the rubber meets the road of ‘speaking your truth’ verses speaking ‘the truth.’ Truth matters.

Everywhere we look it seems that everyone is looking to actively ‘heal’ something; be it a synagogue, organization, ourselves etc. How can healing occur when the wounds have never been tended to? Healing is holistic, and this takes bravery and courage to uncover ‘the’ truth.

Rabbi Adam Scheldt, my former clergy partner and expert in Jewish spirituality taught me that when he participates in conversation, he considers 3 questions which, to me, are kavannot (intenti) before he contributes. They are: ‘Is it true? ‘Is it helpful? ‘Is it kind?.’ I treasure this teaching from him. Another special teaching comes from Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld who said, “always be a mensch.”

When did speaking up and out, speaking truth to power, and standing up for oneself become synonymous with not being kind, not being helpful or not being a mensch? Being vulnerable is a strength, not a weakness and by being vulnerable is to be transparent and honest. Many have come to learn this the hard way and have been severely punished for performing what Judaism implores us to do.

I think we all might agree that the temperature only rises when narrow slices of half-truths are offered, therefore, it should come to no surprise that it leaves people wondering, guessing, and not trusting.

In closing, here are some factual truths (not ‘my truth’, sorry) of what occurred these past few years; in our world, in our country and in our very own backyards. Arson as a hate crime occurred to our home and two men were sent to jail for their heinous crimes. Many people raised questions regarding a fragile situation in a local organization and their voices were silenced. Truths and facts are deliberately hidden from masses of individuals until information was leaked by someone on the inside. Misconduct, abuse and harm occur at every level, in every organization, and yes, even Jewish organizations. The Union of Reform Judaism spent two years working with a Restorative Justice team to take full responsibility of what occurred in URJ spaces and places; they have been very public with their teshuvah and legal findings. Keep asking questions, keep searching for the truth, be impatient to perform mitzvot and more impatient to pursue justice.

It is never too late for tikkun olam. You can only heal yourself, your family, your workplace, your relationships when you are able to fully embrace the entire truth and acknowledge the facts that support the entire truth, not just ‘your truth’ or what is easier to live with.

Speak truth. Share truth, and if you are in a position of power, be transparent for everyone’s sake. Afterall, when you bury so much truth under your carpet, you’re eventually bound to trip.

The clocks have moved forward, the time has changed, so let us reset our clocks by speaking only in truth.


Cantor-Rabbi Penny S. Myers is Chairperson of the Great Lakes Rivers Region of Cantors Assembly.




Emet - Truth. - Jewish Thought of the week 2022