If you are honest and speak with integrity, people will respect you and enjoy your company. If you charm people and tell them what they want to hear while you secretly disdain them, they will see through your charm and reject you.
This is not always evident upfront. On the surface it seems that charismatic operators enjoy success. Many of the great leaders in industry and politics are smooth operators and habitual liars. But that is just the surface. All the glitz and glamor conceal the sad twisted truth of such people. You can deceive acquaintances and admirers who see you from a distance. But you can’t deceive those who know you well. People who smile at your face and grimace when you turn your back, can’t sustain long term friendships or deep relationships. Before long, they are exposed as frauds.
There is a reason for this. If you are conflicted within—you say one thing but think another, you will have conflict on the outside—you won’t get along with family and friends. People don’t like charlatans. People don’t appreciate being lied to, no one likes to be played for a fool. If you don’t like me, have the courage to tell me to my face. If you can’t do that, at least don’t lie to me.
On the other hand, inner integrity and wholesomeness lead to lasting relationships and deep friendships. People with integrity tend to integrate well with others. Power and wealth are magnets, but they don’t attract people who care for them. They attract people who seek access to their power. Integrity, honesty, modesty, and refinement are magnets for true friends. People intrinsically enjoy the company of those who speak with their heart. Those who wear their hearts on their sleeves.
This explains an interesting use of phrase in the Torah portion this week. The Torah tells us that the Jewish people traveled from a place called Rephidim and arrived at Sinai on this day. Many wondered what the Torah means to convey with the words, “ on this day.” On which day?
I will share an insight based on what we just discussed. Rephidim is a cognate of pirud— scattered. When the Jewish people were in Rephidim, they were fragmented. They did not speak in unison, with one voice and one heart. They said what others wanted to hear despite thinking differently. Hence, the unity was compromised. They were in a state of pirud—fragmentation.
You can’t receive the Torah in a state of internal fragmentation. If humans are inherently drawn to unity and wholeness, how much more so, G-d. G-d is absolute unity. Fragmentation is the very opposite of G-dliness. Thus, to receive the Torah, the Jewish people had to journey away from Rephidim, from the state of fragmentation and divisiveness.
Instead, they had to embrace the mindset and culture of Sinai on this day. The culture of Sinai is external unity and internal integration. What you say is what you get. You only speak the truth. What is in your heart, is on your tongue. If you tell someone that you love them, you really do. If you don’t, you work on loving them until you can say it with honesty.
How do we know that this is the culture of Sinai? Well, it’s embedded in its very name. You see, every letter has a hidden element and a revealed element. The letter itself is the revealed element. The letters that spell the letter are the concealed element. Take the letter G, for example. It is spelled gee. The ee is the hidden part of the letter. It is not usually spelled out. The G is the revealed part.
The revealed part is what we say. The hidden part is what we mean. When you use the consonant G, you verbalize the consonant, but if asked which letter you intended, you would reply gee. Very often, we don’t reveal everything we are thinking. If we always told everyone exactly what we thought, we might offend some people. So, we filter out thoughts that people don’t want to hear. This is an acceptable social technique because we are not lying by commission. Just by omission. There is a wonderful old saying, “We mustn’t tell a lie, but we need not always tell the entire truth.”
When the primary letter is different from the letters that spell it, it implies that our thoughts are not fully conveyed by our words. This works to a degree in a social setting, but it is not sufficient for Torah. To be worthy of the Torah, of G-d’s book, we must be absolutely honest. Because G-d is the epitome of truth, we must be truthful too. What we say we must think and what we think we must say. And if we are not comfortable sharing certain thoughts, we must train ourselves to think better thoughts.
This is indicated by primary letters that are spelled by letters that are like them. Each of the letters that spell Sinai are exactly like the letters that spell them. We know that Hebrew letters double as numbers; they have numeric value. Let’s look at the numeric value of the letters that comprise the world Sinai.
It begins with a samech. The numeric value of the samach, is 60. The letter samech is spelled like this: samach, mem, chaf. The mem has a numeric value of 40 and the chaf has a numeric value of 20. Now, 40+20=60. The same holds true for the next letter, yud, which has a numeric value of 10. The filler letters are vav—6, and daled—4. 6+4=10. The next letter is nun—50. The filler letter is also a nun. The final letter is yud, and as we demonstrated its filler letters also add up to 10.
Sinai is the mountain on which G-d descended. This is a place of absolute honesty, authenticity, genuineness, and integrity. There are no games with G-d. Our sages wrote that G-d’s signature is truth. This is indicated by the fact that all the letters that comprise the word Sinai are spelled by letters that amount to the same numeric value as the letter they spell.
To be worthy of approaching G-d’s holy space, we must reach the zenith of honesty and integrity. We can’t conceal our true feelings, let alone lie about them overtly. We must toil to ensure that our feelings and thoughts are aligned with the wonderful things we say about ourselves, about others, and about G-d.
We now return to the Torah’s phrase, on this day they arrived at Sinai. The Hebrew word for day, is yom. The three letters that comprise yom, yud, vav, mem, are also spelled with letters that amount to the same numeric value. We already demonstrated that yud and vav are filled in by letters that have the same numeric value. The same holds true for the mem, which is spelled mem, mem. Two exact same letters.
The message is this: The Jews were in Rephidim—scatteredness and fragmentation. To approach Sinai—authenticity and Divine integrity, they had to leave Rephidim— divisiveness, bigotry, judgementalism, and dishonesty, behind. Thus, they came to Sinai, on (or with) this yom. The yom of absolute and complete integrity. Indeed, our sages taught that Jews arrived at Sinai as a singular unity. As one person with our heart.
This is how they came to Sinai then. This is how we come to Sinai now. The key for us to study and absorb the Torah is complete integrity and honesty. No ego and no pretentiousness. Ego is an acronym for edging G-d out. Ego is not a partner for the Torah. Only honesty, integrity, and modesty.
Rabbi Eliezer (Lazer) Gurkow, currently serving as rabbi of congregation Beth Tefilah in London, Ontario, is a well-known speaker and writer on Torah issues and current affairs