Torah Study > Chapter 6: Truth and Peace
Pirkei Avot records a teaching attributed to Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel
which states that the world stands on three pillars: justice, truth, and
peace. This is a noble sentiment and one to be pursued. The problem
is that these three things are not totally compatible. Pursuing one may
We know this from our own lives. Sometimes too much honesty leads
to someone getting upset; sometimes too much misphat, unmediated
justice, leads to conflict; and sometimes enforced peace is unjust. We
can perhaps best understand Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel as meaning
that the world stands on correctly balancing these three things. The
question is: How do we do that? How do we know when to pursue one
at the expense of the other? When do we sacrifice one for more effectively
advancing all three?
In a previous chapter we explored the limitations of pure mishpat and how it
needs to be tempered by tzedek. In this chapter we will explore the relationship
between truth and peace.
We will explore two different kinds of truth: calling someone to task for what
they did wrong, especially someone who is a peer or above you in status and power; and raising-up a minority position when it is uncomfortable, unpopular
or even dangerous to do so.
We will look at various kinds of pursuits of peace from the inter-personal
to the political, some which involve aspects of truth and some which
involve aspects of tzedek.
The framing exercise and five texts presented below expand our understanding
of justice and examine Jewish perspectives on responding to
the injustices we confront in our world.
TEXT 1: Challenging God (Genesis, ch. 18)
is a foundational text which sets up the Jewish paradigm of struggling with
the Divine and standing up for one’s beliefs in the face of imposing power.
TEXT 2: Rebuking Your Neighbor (Leviticus, ch. 19)
further develops the idea that we are responsible for speaking up and confronting those who do wrong, even if the confrontation may disrupt
peace and social order.
TEXT 3: Enduring Debates (Mishna, Avot 5:17)
affirms the value that many questions have more than one correct
answer—in other words, there are multiple truths. The “higher” truth
is a function of the perspective of the decision maker.
TEXT 4: Ways of Peace (Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 61a)
exposes the connections and tensions between peace and justice.
TEXT 5: Enough (Yitzhak Rabin)
gives a historical example of seeking peace at the expense of truth and justice.
> Did you ever feel alone in your conviction and yet still decided to speak out? When was that?
> What motivated you and gave you courage? How did you feel afterward? Would you do it again?
> Are there times when you refrained from speaking your mind in order to prevent conflict? Was it successful?
> Share with participants the slogan: “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.”
> What does it mean to rebuke, scold, or otherwise hold a friend accountable for something?
> What is the distinction between rebuking and nagging and tattling?
> Have you ever rebuked a friend? What gave you the courage to do so?
> What was the outcome? How did you feel? Would you do it again?
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