Rav Yisrael Salanter’s 13 Midos- #11

Righteousness: In the normal sense of justice; and also as the sages interpret the term- give up what is yours even when not required to do so

Earlier this morning in shul I (along with anyone else who went to shul) heard:
“Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may live and possess the land the Lord, your God, is giving you.” Devarim 16:20

As I enter Elul, I wonder what is the true meaning of “Righteousness”, justice, or Tzedek?
There are mitzvos that seem to make since based on how things run in a society that is governed by basic human rights (Rav Hirsch dedicates a great deal to this concept in his commentary on Chumash and several chapters specifically in Horeb and in the Nineteen Letters, but a discussion about his views will be for another time). Maybe this is what Rav Yisrael means by “in the normal sense of justice”?
I think it means that we all have certain thing that we are entitled to. When I say that we are entitled to certain things, I really mean that Hashem gives me what I need at a certain time. Ultimately, Hashem deals with me in a way that my needs are fulfilled based on my merits. There are exceptions to every rule, and some people do seem to get more in life than we may think that they merit. Reb Nachman has a whole teaching about this (the Treasury of Unearned Gifts).

Rav Yisrael goes on to give us a better definition of Tzedek, “give up what is yours even when not required to do so”. To me, it doesn’t get more practical that this. Just because something is “yours” you can still give it up.
A few examples come to mind: giving up your parking spot, giving up your seat in shul (putting aside the concept of “makom kevuah” for a minute), your kids giving up their room for a guest, not taking the last brownie, , giving up a smile or a kind work, or (and this just happened to me) giving up on taking the credit for a great one-liner during kiddush after shul (I’m only using this as an example. When my line was used by someone after they heard me say it I was, truthfully, kind of upset, but then decided that it really wasn’t worth it only because the goal of what I said was to bring a little humor and levity to the kiddush, and not to show how witty I could be).

I find it interesting that Rav Yisrael’s great- grandson, Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler took this concept of giving and taught the Torah observant world that it is giving that leads us to love, not love that leads us to giving. Rav Dessler, in fact, devided the world into two types of people: Givers and Takers. To quote from Rabbi Aryeh Carmell’s translation of Michtav Me-Eliyahu, “Man has been granted this sublime power of giving, enabling him too be merciful, to bestow happiness, to give of himself.” (Strive For Truth! Volume I, page 119)

As each day brings me closer to Rosh Hashanah, I hope I can be a giver, and not a taker.

If anyone is interested in viewing what Elul was like back in the day, please feel free to read Elul in Slabodka.

I’m sorry for not posting too much last week, but I decided to greatly reduce my online time and blog reading/commenting. Last week was a difficult exercise in self-control, but I managed. I’m still reading/commenting, but I’ve set aside certain time at night to do so (and not every night). Going online and checking email throughout the day is something of a habit for most of us. I found it, in some ways, conciously controling my urges to check email/blogs much more difficult that some of the things I stopped doing when I became frum.

On a more serious note, please, if you can, continue to daven for Reuven ben Tova Chaya. The health of any child is a true Bracha from Hashem.

4 thoughts on “Rav Yisrael Salanter’s 13 Midos- #11

  1. Rafi G

    giving up is very important. sometimes though it gets frustrating when you are always the one to be giving up, and th eother side does not. eventually you get the reputation that you can be walked all over. Ot as to be balanced…

  2. Shoshana

    I don’t know enough Hebrew, but I wondered at the fact that “Justice” or “tzedek” was a completely different word from “judgement” or “din,” considering the fact that you would expect justice to be the outcome of judgement. Any insights?

  3. Neil Harris

    SW/FM: That’s great. Kids need to know that.

    Rafi: True. There are time when I feel the same way. It’s the whole humility vs. postive self-identity problem. I haven’t found a good balance for myself, yet. I know that there’s a fine line between being walked all over and being helpful to others, I just haven’t found it yet.

    Shoshana: Rav Salanter uses the hebrew word “tzedek”. You’re right, the word “din” is refering to judgement. I think that what I wrote about refers to the concept of being just, of fairness, doing the right thing, or making sure your “right actions” measure more than your “wrong actions”.
    Hope that helps and thanks for reading.


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