Our Sages say that another name for sefer Devarim is sefer HaYashar, the “straight” book. This name is derived from the many verses in Devarim that speak about being yashar, straight – three of which are in this week’s parsha (Devarim 12:25, 12:28, 13:19).
We are fast approaching Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Before we commence reciting Kol Nidrei on Yom Kippur, we take out Torah scrolls from the ark and while they are being carried to the podium, the community repeatedly recites a verse from Tehillim (97:11): “Light is sown for the tzaddik and for the straight of heart – joy.”
What is the difference between a tzaddik and someone who is “straight of heart” (yashar lev)? Is it better to be a tzaddik or yashar? Most would instinctively reply, “A tzaddik!” However, Rashi on the Gemara (Ta’anit 15a) says the opposite, that it is better to be a yashar than a tzaddik.
What is the definition of a tzaddik? The Gemara (Pesachim 8a) states that someone who gives a selah (denomination of coin) to charity so that his sons will enjoy long life will merit the world to come and is a “total” tzaddik. Rashi there explains what it means to be a “total” tzaddik – someone who is meticulous with the Torah and follows it to the letter.
However, Hashem demands more than that of us. Shlomo HaMelech in Kohelet (7:9) says, “Don’t be a tzaddik too much!” Hashem does not want us to suffice with being a tzaddik, He wants us to be a yashar.
I will illustrate what yashar means with a parable. There is a religious family living in Brooklyn. The wife works shifts as a “911” operator. This week she has to work a Friday shift, so she will not be able to do the Shabbat shopping. She leaves home at dawn and puts a post-it note on the refrigerator for her husband listing all the items to buy for Shabbat – challahs, ice cream (she already cooked the chicken on Thursday night), drinks, nosh for the kids, etc.”
If the husband goes to the supermarket and buys exactly what she asked and comes back laden with provisions for Shabbat, is he a good husband? The simple answer is yes, he is a tzaddik! But the Torah and our parsha tell us it is not enough to be a tzaddik, we have to be yashar.
Yashar is not only following the letter of the law, it is going the extra nine yards (lifnim mi’shurat hadin). The wife made a list of all the things that the family needed, but not anything that she needs. If the husband is a yashar, he will get all the things on her list and, in addition, he will buy her a bunch of flowers (she is not going to write flowers on her list). He knows that she likes pecans, so instead of getting the 20-ounce bag she listed, he will get 40 ounces so she will have some extra oneg Shabbat.
This is the way Hashem wants us to serve Him, not just according to the letter of the law, but beyond that, out of love, and not only because we are obligated and commanded to.
In the Sanctuary of the Beit HaMikdash, the Menorah stands alongside the Shulchan Lechem Hapanim.
The Menorah, symbolizing the Oral Law, radiates light. Someone who follows the Torah meticulously to the letter of the law is called a tzaddik, and this is the first half of our verse in Tehillim above – “Light is sown for the tzaddik.”
The Shulchan is the counterpart of the Menorah and has twelve loaves of Lechem Hapanim stacked on it, each loaf shaped like a smiling mouth (sefer Meir Panim). The Shulchan Lechem Hapanim symbolizes wealth and the principle of serving Hashem with a smile, with joy. This is the second part of the verse – “and for the straight of heart – joy.”
As we approach the month of Elul, a unique and special time when the “King is in the Field” (HaMelech B’Sadeh), we should strive to apply the lesson of Re’ei. We should use the Menorah, the light of the Torah, as a starting point, to get to the level of tzaddik, but not stop there. To transcend and move to the next level, the Shulchan is where we attain the status of yashar, joy. It begins with our spouse, our parents, our children and our neighbors, and eventually leads to serving Hashem b’simcha, out of love.
Parshat HaShavua Trivia Question: The parsha tells us “You shall rejoice in your festivals” (Devarim 16:14). What does “rejoice” mean?
Answer to Last Week’s Trivia Question: Which word is used for dates in the list of the Seven Species in Eikev? Dates are the only species not mentioned by name but by their derivative, dvash – honey. One might think the Torah is referring to honey from figs, grapes, dates or any type of fruit, but the Gemara (Yerushalmi, Bikkurim, chap. 1, halacha 3) specifically states “date honey.” Apropos the shiur above, Tehillim (92:13) says, “A tzaddik should grow like a date palm.” It begins with being a tzaddik, but ends up straight, yashar, like a date palm.