Rabbi Israel of Rizhin once asked a student how many sections there were in the Shulchan Arukh (16th century code of Jewish Law). The student replied, “Four.” “What,” asked the Rizhiner, “do you know about the fifth section?” “But there is no fifth section,” said the student. “There is,” said the Rizhiner. “It says: always treat a person like a mensch.”
In this week’s parashah, Vaetchanan, there is an interesting passage which relates to this story. “You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and God’s testimonies and statutes, which God has commanded you. And you shall do what is right and good (hayashar vehatov) in the sight of the Lord, that it may go well with you, and that you may go in and take possession of the good land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers.” (Deut. 6: 17-18)
Rashi (11th century Torah commentator) is bothered by the fact that this passage seems to imply that doing what is right and good in the sight of the Lord is not included in the directive to keep God’s commandments. Rashi offers his solution which is that right and good refer to compromise (that is, not strictly insisting on your rights).
Ramban (12th century Spanish commentator) offers a slightly different interpretation. He explains that Moses is teaching the Israelites that they should observe both what God has commanded them to do as well as what God has not commanded them to do. Ultimately, we are challenged to behave in a way that is good that sometimes goes beyond the law – the rabbis referred to this in Hebrew as lifnim mishurat hadin. The Torah does not speak to every situation of human decision making. We must sometimes intuit what the proper conduct should be.
The Torah teaches that we have a responsibility to not only follow prescribed laws as they were passed down to us but also to be part of deciding at any given moment what the right thing to do would be and then to do it. While many areas in life are complicated and it is sometimes difficult to ascertain what the “right” thing to do is, the Torah’s directive reminds us that we cannot shy away from taking action when there is good work to be done.
One area of doing hayashar vehatov (right and good) in the eyes of God at Shaarei Tikvah is our Chesed Committee, which has diligently reached out to members and their families in need of healing or going through a period of mourning with visits, phone calls, and emails. If you would like to get involved, please email Jean Hertz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Monday, August 13 at 7:30 pm we will be meeting with Paul Feiner, Supervisor of the Town of Greenburgh, who will be giving us valuable information about resources that are available in Westchester for the elderly. This meeting is open to all members of the congregation and anybody they would like to bring. Please join us for what should be an informative and interesting discussion.