Thursday, Feb 29, 2024

The Search for Authenticity

 

Every year, the dictionary editors at Merriam-Webster name a word of the year. I am not sure what the criteria for that distinguished dedication are, but it is certainly not bestowed upon a newfangled word or phrase that was created to describe an invention or action that was non-existent before.

I think that they choose a word that people search for in their dictionary, and in this day and age, it must be an online dictionary. I know that because this year they picked a very old word, but somehow people are searching for its meaning, and the truth of its meaning is certainly eluding them.

This year, they picked the word “authentic.”

Yes, my friends, “authentic” is the word of the year! With so much fake, phony and fraud (pardon my uninventiveness) in the world, people are trying to understand what authentic means.

And they are, nebach, going to Merriam-Webster for the answer.

The editor-at-large, Peter Sokolowski, told the Associated Press in an exclusive interview, “We see in 2023 a kind of crisis of authenticity. What we realize is that when we question authenticity, we value it even more.”

This year, according to Mr. Sokolowski, “There was no particularly huge boost at any given time, but a constancy to the increased interest in ‘authentic.’”

I cringe at the blind leading the blind and then searching in dictionaries for the truth.

Unfortunately, authenticity, outside the source of total truth, is nowhere to be found. Newspapers (except for this one) are filled with lies. Broadcasts are filled with deviations. Images are altered, so that they speak falsehoods. Books are filled with fake history. And of course, periodicals are filled with fake current events. So where can we find out what authentic means?

My father used to use an expression, “Ah Russishe emes. A Russian truth.” The reason behind the expression was that the official Soviet newspaper was called Pravda. In Russian, Pravda (п?????) means?truth. The Yiddish version of the paper was called ?равда) means truth. The Yiddish version of the paper was called “Emes,” the Hebrew word for truth. The problem is that instead of spelling it on the masthead as alef, mem, tov, they spelled it in a cockamamie, Russian perversion, ayin, mem, ayin, samach. And thus, even their name was a lie.

People are searching for the truth, but it eludes them.  But the lies they buy, sometimes in innocence, become their mantra of their search for world peace and tikkun olam. As much as it is hard to believe, the Jewish neshamos, pleading for Palestinians and protesting alongside Arab-influenced brutes, certainly think that they are altruistic, peace-loving saviors. But once the authenticators are truly fabricators, the stories concocted and the narratives recited become (for lack of a better word and equally abhorrent) their gospel.

An askan once requested to get a certain mission accomplished with the Russian government through a group of heretics who claimed to want to help the kehillah. Rav Chaim Soloveitchik allegedly rejected the idea and countered with the following story: There was a group of conniving thieves who came up with a daring plot. They dressed up like policemen and government officials, with badges and uniforms, and went to a very wealthy man who was known to store his cash in a safe. They told him that they suspect that there were counterfeiters on the loose and they had to verify his cash to ensure that the bills were not fraudulent. Although he was not suspected of being a counterfeiter, they said, they would have to inspect his cash. They issued him an official receipt for 5,000 rubles and said they would give it to the official bank where the money would be inspected and certified. All he would have to do is wait 24 hours, go to the bank, present the receipt, and he would get his cash back.

The man complied. After all, these men were policemen and government agents.

The next day, he went to the bank and presented the receipt for his cash and the certificate of authenticity, but all he received from the banker was a puzzled look.

“What are you talking about? What is this paper?”

The man was indignant. “Don’t play games! This paper is the receipt. I got it from the police for giving you all the cash!”

The banker shook his head. “Nobody brought us cash. You must be insane!”

The fellow was flabbergasted. “What do you mean? The police came and they brought you cash!”

“We never received any cash from policemen. Your receipt is worthless!”

The man began to scream. “How could you say that? They were dressed like policemen! They must have been policemen.”

The banker sighed. “You fool! They may have been dressed up like policemen. They may have even carried guns like policemen, but they were not policemen. They were fakers.”

Rav Chaim explained the obvious: “They may look like askonim and dress up like them as well, but they are not the ones to help us. They will do more harm than good.”

People are indeed for authenticity, but the places in which they look are mired in misrepresentations. And the purveyors of authenticity are dealing deceit.

I am reminded of the story that Rav Noach Weinberg used to relate: A young man entered the portals of Yeshiva Aish HaTorah for a few days and then decided to leave in order to pursue his quest across the Land of Israel. After two weeks of spiritual hunting, including stops at shuls in Meah Shearim and visits to holy sites in Tiveriah and Tzefas, the student returned to Yerushalayim and headed straight back to the yeshiva.

“Rabbi Weinberg,” he exclaimed, “I spent two weeks travelling the length and breadth of Israel in search of spirituality, and I want you to know that I found absolutely nothing!”

Rav Weinberg just nodded. “You say you traveled the entire country and did not find any spirituality?”

“Yes, sir,” came the resounding reply. “None whatsoever!”

“Let me ask you,” Rav Weinberg continued, “what is your opinion about the Israeli Bafoofsticks?”

“Bafoofsticks?” the student countered. “What’s a Bafoofstick?”

“That’s not the point,” the rabbi responded. “I just want to know how you feel about them.”

“About what?”

“The Bafoofsticks.”

The young man looked at Rav Weinberg as if the learned man had lost his mind, and tried to be as respectful as he could under the circumstances. “Rabbi,” he exclaimed in frustration, “I’d love to tell you how the Bafoofsticks were. I’d even spend the whole day discussing Bafoofsticks with you. But frankly, I honestly have no idea what in the world a Bafoofstick is! I wouldn’t even know a Bafoofstick if I saw one!”

Rav Weinberg smiled, for he had accomplished his objective. “Tell me,” he said softly, “do you know what spirituality is?”

Merriam-Webster may be dealing their deceit as they collaborate in defining authenticity, but there is only one place that is the source of authentic truth. That is the words and outlook of Torah.

Merriam-Webster can translate and define. They can even name it “Word of the Year.” But do they know what authenticity really is?

 

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