About a week after my release from the military hospital where I recuperated from my Holocaust ordeal in 1945, I went back to my hometown. It took me just one day to realize that Mukacevo, now belonging to the Soviet Union, was not the place that I wished to live.
On my third day, I left for Budapest. But that city, still occupied by the Russian army, didn’t please me either, so I again mounted the train with the new aim of settling in Prague.
I had lived in Czechoslovakia until 1939, and, even at the young age of 13, I had realized that this country under the leadership of Masaryk and Benes was the most liberal democratic country in the known world. Prague was also a city with a long Jewish history, including being the place where the Golem was created.
The Golem was a powerful humanlike clay creature believed to have been created by Rabbi Jehudah Loew ben Bezalel, known as the Maharal. He created the Golem to be the protector of the Jews, to save them from the harm that was generally inflicted on them, and especially to defend them against the infamous blood accusations of killing Christian children and using their blood to bake matzah for Passover.
Soon after my arrival in Prague, I visited the Alt-Neu (Old-New) Shul, the Maharal’s synagogue, and I climbed the stairs to the attic to visit the site where the Golem was decommissioned from a living entity into a lump of clay.
The tale relates that this clay man was clumsy and useless not only for the protection of the Jews, but also, based on the rebbetzin’s assessment, for household tasks. Consequently, the Maharal had no option but to decommission him. The Maharal took the Golem up to the synagogue’s attic and returned him to his original form, a lump of clay.
Standing in the attic, I stared at the dirt-covered floor, seeking the protrusion that would, according to the legend, indicate where the Golem became again a lump of clay. At one point I thought I saw a little rise in the floor, and I said to myself: “Ah-ha! This must be the remnant of the Golem.”
But how did the rabbi give life to this creature in the first place?
The legend relates that the rabbi fashioned a large man from clay and inserted into his mouth, under his tongue, a piece of parchment on which G-d’s sacred and unpronounceable name was written — the name that G-d Himself used to create the universe.
But that was not sufficient to enliven the creature. The rabbi needed one more item, an additional sacred force, to give life to the clay form. Using his finger, the rabbi inscribed on the creature’s forehead the Hebrew word emet, meaning truth, and the Golem came alive.
I believe that the inscription of the word truth indicates that humans as social beings cannot exist without truth. All we have to do is to erase the aleph, the first letter in emet, and we are left with the word met: death.
Social life without truth is death.
In the traditional prayer book, in the evening prayer after the three chapters that constitute the Shema — the declaration of G-d’s unity, the injunction to obey the law and the use of tzitzit — a fourth paragraph begins with the words emet v’emunah: truth and faith.
To me, these words reflect the association between the two concepts: Truth and faith are interrelated. Faith is a synonym for trust, so I can declare that only where there is truth can trust exist.
We Jews emphasize the essentiality of torat emet, to teach the truth. It is essential that what authorities tell us should be the truth. Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, offered advice on the type of men Moses should pick for public service: “Select from the entire population men of valor, G-d-fearing men, truthful men, who despise bribes,” and these people should serve the nation.
Alas, we have failed to follow Jethro’s advice. We have gathered a government of people who believe that truth comes in different forms and can be altered and who do not believe in telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
It seems that I again must be subject to a government operating under the belief that if you tell a big lie often enough, people will believe it to be the truth. As far as I see, the motto is “Give the public alternate truth.” Is this what we wish for this country?
Let me propose that the absence of truth leads to enslavement. The big lie led to the enslavement of the mind and to the Holocaust, and history can repeat itself.
I know that we are facing difficult social and economic conditions. Adult children live with their parents, and the future is more clouded than it has been in 80 years. Young and mature people alike lack the ability to foresee the future. We are losing the “if-then” propositions that we used in the past to make decisions for the future. Getting a college degree no longer means getting a good job.
The Germans faced similar conditions at the end of the 1920s. Out of fear, they rejected reason and believed in a false messiah who, using lies, assured them that he alone could solve their problems. His slogan was Germany first.
It is time that we realize what Franklin D. Roosevelt taught us: The only thing to fear is fear itself. If we reject fear and again assume rationality, we can solve our problems and face the future with hope.