There is power in truth. Speaking truth to power. Speaking out. This phrase from our liturgy is speaking to the Divine, calling out to The Ultimate Truth by name. But where does truth come from? This melody was inspired by a painting I found while spending a year in Israel studying at the Conservative Yeshiva during rabbinical school. I was living in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Nachlaot. Every morning I would wander through the Jerusalem stone-paved alleyways of my neighborhood on the way to school. Along my route was a hole-in-the-wall Judaica art store featuring the art of a Chassidic Jewish artist. Every day I would walk past his storefront, and he would hang paintings outside of the shop for people passing by to see. There was one painting that caught my eye early on, and I would walk past it every single day and think about what it meant. After many weeks, I was inspired by my thoughts about this painting to sit down and write this melody. I had sung a catchy upbeat melody for these words ever since I was a child, but had come to feel that this melody was not able to express the essence of these words. In my writing, my ultimate goal has become to have the melody help to better express what the words are already trying to say.
So what are these words trying to say? “Emet, atah hu rishon,” Truth, you are first. “Emet, atah hu acharon,” Truth, you are last. “U’mibal’adecha ein lanu melech, go’el, u’moshia,” And without you, there is no King, no redemption, no salvation. We human beings are unique among the creations because we can lie. This power is a gift and a curse, and with it comes the necessity for human beings to commit to the truth. Only we can bring truth to light, only we have the power to discern truth from lies. It is up to us to prioritize the truth, and so we must decide that truth must come first and not last.
In a conversation with my friend and teacher Rabbi David Ingber, he also shared with me another interpretation for these words. In fact, these words are about each individual person. These words should be read: “In truth, you are first. In truth, you are last.” There are times when you must let your own personal truth come first. You must prioritize yourself. And there are other times when you must pull your own truth back, and let others’ truths shine forth. That is the only path to redemption.