Confessions: Tafalnu Sheker
We have accused falsely. We have brought falsehood into our everyday lives. (Artscroll Vidui) “They have slandered me falsely – ‘taflu ali sheker’ – the insolent – but with my whole heart I will keep Your precepts.” (Psalm 119:69)
Job is furious with his friends who have been trying to console him: “You, however, mass deceit – ‘toflei sheker’, all of you are worthless physicians.” (Job 13:4) Rashi takes the root – tafail – as denoting the joining together of various components. The sense of our phrase – which is the basis of the stitch, ‘Tafalnu shaker’, in the Ashamnu confession of Yom Kippur – is that the friends have built an edifice of falsehoods. Each of the arguments they have marshaled and joined to one another is just one more brick in a castle of air. (Artscroll Commentary to Job)
Tafalnu Sheker addresses the times that we make decisions based on false assumptions, and then begin to connect one assumption to another, constructing an edifice that has no firm foundation on which to build our lives. Job’s friends based all their arguments on one false assumption: God would not have allowed Job to suffer so much if Job had not sinned. They assumed that he must have stolen in order to be punished with the loss of everything he owned. He must have committed adultery in order to suffer the loss of his children and wife.
Tafalnu Sheker includes the times we say or just think that if someone is suffering, they must be a sinner. It includes assuming, when we do not understand an action or word, that the person acting or speaking was wrong or sinning. We then begin to see the person as a sinner and construct a structure in which everything he or she does is evil. In fact, we often do this to ourselves: We often hesitate to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt and identify an action as evil. That first assumption, often false, leads to further assumptions of failure and evil intention, until we, much as Job’s friends, can no longer see with clarity, but only within our false construct.
The Metzudat David reads this verse as: “You accuse me of many sins of which I am completely innocent.”
In another verse, Job uses the same root to speak to God: “For now You number my footsteps, have no patience with my sins. My iniquities are sealed in a bundle, You cling to my transgressions.” (Job 14:17) As Rashi understands these two verses, Job is bemoaning the dreadful contrast between what might have been and what is. Instead of the loving concern for which Job has expresses such longing in earlier verses, he sees God perversely and vindictively dogging his every footstep, pounding zealously upon every sin, so that the punishment can be exacted at the earliest possible moment. Nothing is overlooked, no shortcoming allowed to sink into oblivion. Each is zealously wrapped and guarded, to be used against the hapless Job as opportunity permits. (Artscroll Commentary to Job)
Tafalnu Sheker describes situations in which we do not allow someone to get away with anything. This often happens in arguments: We are angry with each other and we pick up on every insignificant detail to criticize and attack.
This certainly happens when we are angry with ourselves.
We must learn how to identify our most basic assumptions and evaluate whether they are true and substantive.
We must be willing to surrender assumptions that are false, rather than searching for ways to justify them. (See Zadnu)
We must be willing to ask: “What motivates me on the most basic level?”
We can take advantage of Yom Kippur, when we separate from most of our physical lives, to achieve the unclouded clarity necessary to identify our basic assumptions and motivations.
Give others and ourselves the benefit of the doubt.