Re’eh: Being upright

Life Lessons from the Torah Portion of Re’eh. Deuteronomy 11:26–16:17

Moshe Kempinski,

Judaism Moshe Kempinski
Moshe Kempinski
צילום: PR

At the end of a Torah portion describing the choices that Hashem has placed before us” “Re’eh - See, I give you today a blessing and a curse (Deuteronomy11:26).  


He ends the portion with the following words;

Keep and hearken to all these words that I command you, that it may benefit you and your children after you, forever, when you do what is good and proper( HaTov VeHaYashar) in the eyes of Hashem, your G-d. (Deuteronomy 12:28).


What do those words” do what is good and proper( HaTov VeHaYashar) “imply? Rashi there explains that the words “what is good” refers to what is good  in the eyes of Heaven. The words “What is proper” relate to what is proper in the eyes of man.

Yet the words HaYashar seem to imply much more !

We see the use of the word Yashar throughout Tanach, the following being just a sampling;

"If you obey G-d, and do what is upright in His eyes (veHaYashar beinav taaseh], and listen to all of His mitzvot and keep all of His decrees..." (Exodus 15:26).

“For you shall hearken to the voice of Hashem your G-d, to keep all His commandments which I command you this day to do that which is proper (Yashar) in the eyes of Hashem, your G-d.” (Deuteronomy 13:19).


Job too is introduced as "tam veYashar—wholehearted and upright" (Job 1:1).


The classic commentators Rashi and the Ramban explain that  the term Yashar denotes behavior that is lifnim mishurat hadin, that is to say “above the letter of the law”. This implies an acting in a manner which is not necessarily prescribed in the written text of G-d’s word, but should be a corollary or outgrowth of walking within those written statutes.

Yet interestingly, the term lifnim mishurat hadin, literally translates as “ within the letters of the law”. This seems to imply that it relates to behavior that is at the core of G-d’s commandments and His Torah. That is to say that this attribute of Yashar is not just an admirable trait but may actually be the essence of Hashem’s purpose with His Torah.

We read in the Talmud the following statement“Rabbi Yochanan stated: Jerusalem was only destroyed because the people judged with Torah judgment. Does this mean they should judge a corrupt judgment? Rather, [Jerusalem was only destroyed] because they judged Torah law, and did not go beyond the letter of the law (lifnim meShuratHaDin).”(Bava Metzia 30b). It was not enough to simply observe the statutes of the Torah but they should have become soul transforming.

The Talmud teaches that every letter in a Torah scroll must be completely surrounded by the blank parchment (Menachot 29a) .This is not simply a description of how to write a Torah scroll but rather a spiritual hint of a deeper truth.

We are told that the words of the Torah were given in fire "from His right a fiery law to them" (Deut. 33:2). Our sages describe it actually as being created with “ black fire” being written on “white fire”. The Black Fire is the letters of Hashem’s word. The White Fire is what surrounds each of those letters. The Black Fire describes the clearly delineated text and its simple revealed meaning. The White Fire ,on the other hand, represents the more sublime "hidden truths".

What is that hidden truth

“Speak to the entire congregation (KOL ADAT) of the children of Israel, and say to them, You shall be holy, for I, Hashem, your G-d, am holy." (Leviticus 19:1-2)

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk asked his students “in what language does G-d speak ?”. His answer was that “Man is the language of G-d.”.

Therefore the words “Kedoshim tihyu – you shall be holy, because I, Hashem your G-d, am holy...” (Leviticus 19:2) implies that it is our responsibility to be holy so that G-d will be experienced as the Holy one that He is.

Hashem is kadosh ( holy) and He is  Yashar.

The deeds of the [Mighty] Rock are perfect, for all His ways are just; a faithful G-d, without injustice He is righteous and upright ( VeYashar).( Deuteronomy 42:4).

Just as he is Yashar so must we be

The Netziv, explains why the book of Genesis  is also known as "Sefer Ha'Yashar," the Book of the "Upright", as it describes in it the life of the Abraham Isaac and Jacob because these forefathers did not only live righteous life with Hashem but they lived their lives as Yesharim. They lived lives that were not only deeply related to Father in heaven but were always concerned for those around them. It did not matter if those people  were sinners in Sodom , a wayward son  or even simple maidens at a well they were concerned for their fellow human beings  as an outpouring of their faith in Hashem. They lived their lives in such a way that it served to exemplify and reveal Hashem’s attribute of loving kindness and caring. Just as He is Yashar they tried to be so as well,

The implications are dramatic. Becoming upright (Yashar) and holy is not a simple act of self-improvement or edification. Walking a life of “doing beyond what is prescribed” for the sake of the world and for all of Hashem’s creations is the core of our ultimate purpose. Doing so, we have the opportunity to represent G-d in this world. What else is there?

LeRefuat Yehudut Bat Golda Yocheved and Yehudit Bat Chaya Esther