5754 - #40
Ramban, Devarim 6:18 in his famous explanation of the directive v'asita hayashar v'hatov b'einei Hashem, "and you shall do what is proper and good in the eyes of Hashem", effectively creates ethical and religious categories for the mitzvot. He writes that it would be impossible for the Torah to indicate in detail the proper behaviour in every circumstance, thus after outlining the correct behaviour in numerous circumstances - so that we may learn and understand the general concept - the Torah declares the general rule - to do what is yashar or tov. This mirrors, as well, Ramban's very understanding of the directive kidoshim tihyu, "be holy" (Vayikra 15:2). The Torah presents details so that we may understand the general ethical category and concept - tov, yashar, kadosh - which we are then to re-apply as circumstances demand even in situations not governed by the details of a specific mitzvah. The difficulty, though, is that the determination of the general principle based on the details of the mitzvot can result in differing conclusions. The process, while theoretically straightforward, can be most problematic.
The determination of tov and yashar is further complicated by the question of which factors are to be included in the analysis. The verse of Devarim 6:18 and that of Devarim 12:28 (ki ta'aseh hatov v'hayashar b'einei Hashem Elokecha, "because you do that which is good and proper in the eyes of Hashem your G-d") both refer to the perspective of G-d. It is Hashem's declaration of tov and yashar that we are to rely upon, not this determination made by another. The implication would seem to be that our understanding of these concepts should be developed solely from G-d's Word i.e. Torah. The Jew's moral consciousness, it would seem, should be based fully on the directives of Halacha, without the influence of perceptions of what is good and proper developed from other perspectives - i.e. some human moral system. G-d's declaration of morality as declared to us in Torah stands not only paramount but alone. Our own feelings of what is moral as well as some perception of a natural morality, it would seem, should be ignored. It is most fascinating, therefore, that Rashi, Devarim 12:28 states that we are to consider hayashar b'einei adam, what is proper in the eyes of human beings.
Rashi actually bases his words on the view of Rabbi Akiva in Sifri Devarim 12:52. Rabbi Akiva states hatov b'einei shamayim v'hayashar b'einei adam while Rabbi Yishmael states hayashar b'einei shamayim v'hatov b'einei adam (although there are different versions of Rabbi Yishmael's view - see B'Derech Tovim 2:3). But the verse says nothing of the "eyes of human beings" stating only b'einei Hashem Elokecha? Rabbi Yishmael can answer that, although there is no mention of adam in the verse, the description of "the eyes of Hashem" only applies to yashar - hatov, pause, and hayashar b'einei Hashem. See Malbim, Devarim 12:28. In fact the author of B'Derech Tovim sees the focus of the disagreement between Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yishmael as an issue regarding the literary form of the Torah, not an argument in concept. (See, however, such commentators as the above noted Malbim and Gur Aryeh, Devarim 12:28 who do understand the matter as reflecting important conceptual issues.) The problem is the view of Rabbi Akiva which Rashi also follows. How can hayashar be described as referring to the evaluations of human beings when the verse specifically states hayashar b'einei Hashem?
We must first question what this evaluation by human beings actually represents. There are in fact many references to the importance of the human perception. See, for example, Mishlei 3:4; Mishna Avot 2:1 and 3:12. What is the significance of this human response? This question is extremely poignant in our times when the Torah perspective is in disagreement with many modern moral perceptions. If we are referring to human beings already conditioned by Torah to understand what is good and proper, than what does this add to the proper evaluation in the eyes of G-d? If we are, though, referring to individuals applying some independentlyderived system of morality, as would be the case in modern society, how can we trust and apply their perception of good?
Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, Devarim 12:28 inherently perceived this problem and, as such, clarified that the evaluation of human beings only had validity subsequent to the correctness of the action in the eyes of G-d. "That which is tov b'einei shamayim should be yashar b'einei adam, done in such a way that it also finds approval in the eyes of people...the way we do things must in the first place be laudable in itself but then must also take into consideration the judgement of people." While clearly resolving any practical conflict that may arise between the Divine perspective and that of human beings, Rabbi Hirsch, though, does not answer the question of the inherent validity of the human perspective. Is acceptance in the eyes of human beings really an issue of public relations, as some would make us believe?
Siftei Chachamim Devarim 12:28 explains that there is no problem with the view of Rabbi Akiva for what the tanna is telling us is that hayashar b'einei adam is included in b'einei Hashem. It is the Divine perspective that endows the human perspective with value. The answer is that G-d has placed within human beings a moral sense which must also be considered in the full observance of Torah. Yet the problem is that this human outlook can be found at times to disagree with Torah, so how can we give weight to it? The challenge of yashar b'einei adam cannot mean in any way to deviate from Torah, the b'einei Hashem. But in recognizing that there is some truth in this perspective, our striving to reconcile, in thought, b'einei adam with its root in b'einei Hashem can bring us to a fuller understanding of Torah.
Rabbi Benjamin Hecht
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