Dear Readers,

Rebbi would say: “Which is the upright (yashar) path for man to choose? Whatever is harmonious for the one who does it, and harmonious for mankind ... ” (Avot 2:1)

At first glance, Rebbi’s teachings seem contrary to Torah. Aren’t we supposed to be as “bold as a leopard … and strong as a lion” (Avot 5:23) in our zeal and determination to follow mitzvot? Don’t we often stand “on the other side” (one explanation of the word Ivri, “Hebrew”) of the world, or popular opinion, when it comes to following G‑d’s moral code of behavior?

However, this Mishna isn’t explaining what a righteous path is, but an upright one. An upright path refers to behavior even beyond mitzvot.

Some people are scrupulous in following the letter of the law, but are mean-spirited, callous or condescending. Their behavior may be exacting, but it isn’t upright.

The Talmud (Avoda Zara 25a) calls the book of Genesis, Sefer Hayashar, “the Book of the Upright.” Not many mitzvot are listed there, but its pages are chock full of upright behavior. In telling the stories of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs, we learn not only how to love G‑d and follow His commandments, but also how to love and care for our fellows. Abraham implores G‑d to save the wicked people of Sodom, and interrupts his communication with G‑d to welcome guests.

So, this Mishna isn’t teaching us to follow the commandments (that is obvious), but how to follow the spirit of the Torah in a manner that is upright for the doer as well as those around him.

This ethic was taught by “Rebbi,” Rabbi Yehudah Hanassi, the prince—otherwise called Rabbeinu Hakodesh, our holy teacher. The Talmud (Gittin 59a) states that from Moses until Rebbi, there wasn’t anyone with such a combination of wisdom and wealth. Rebbi redacted the Mishna; he was universally respected. He also had a warm relationship with the Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Nevertheless, despite his great prestige, the Talmud (Sotah 49b) attests to his character, “With the death of Rebbi, real humility and fear of sin ceased to exist.”

Rebbi lived his life according to this ideal: reaching great spiritual heights while earning the esteem of his fellow man.

Additionally, G‑d gave each of us unique gifts, talents and abilities. In following the path of Torah, we need to use our own individuality by choosing a path that is “harmonious for the one who does it.” Torah is a roadmap for your life’s adventure; infuse your unique characteristics to become the greatest you!

Similarly, allow others the space to serve G‑d in their special manner, permeating their service with their particular personality and perspective.

So sing your beautiful, personal song. In doing so, you will bring harmony le’oseha, to the one who does so (yourself) and others. Le’oseha can also mean to the One who made us all. In finding our distinct voice within Torah, we bring joy to our Maker.

Chana Weisberg
Editor, TJW