Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey

LoginContact UsHelp

Jewish Life
Home > Jewish Life > Mekor Chaim: Re'eh
Advanced Search

August 14, 2006/ 20 Av 5766


“Observe and listen to all these words which I command you, that it may go well with you, and with your children after you, forever, when you do that which is good (tov) and right (yashar) in the eyes of the Lord your God.” Deuteronomy 12:28


According to the Sifre, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yishmael differ over how to understand this passage.  Rabbi Akiva holds that “tov” is “in the eyes of Heaven” and “yashar” is “in the eyes of humanity.”  Rabbi Yishmael takes the opposite view.


If we use Rashi’s understanding of “tov” to mean an absolute standard and “yashar” a relative one, then Rabbi Akiva’s position is easily understood.  Only God can do that which is absolutely correct and good.  We live in a world of relative choices.  We may do the right thing, but in a less than correct way.  We may act to help, but say something less than helpful.  Our actions may seem correct at the time but prove to be detrimental in retrospect. 


Rabbi Yishmael’s reading is more difficult if we assume this approach to “tov” and “yashar”.  Perhaps he understands the terms to refer, not to our actions, but our judgment of others and their decisions and actions.  We humans are limited in our abilities to determine the intent and the motivations of any action.  We therefore must adhere to a clear and defined standard of judging the actions of ourselves and of others.  Only God can perceive the whole picture of human actions, including thoughts and intents; the “tov” as it were.


As we view the painful scenes emanating from Israel this summer, we  cry out in pain and sorrow at the loss of life and the infliction of suffering on so many of our people, as well as so many innocents in Gaza and Lebanon.  I hold with Rabbi Akiva that the actions of Israel and the IDF, though flawed as all human acts must be, are just and right.  I also hold with Rabbi Yishmael that ultimate judgment of right and wrong, of grievances and consequences, of intents and motivations must be left to the Holy One.  Here, in my world, I am left to use my eyes and mind to ascertain what is “tov” and “yashar”. Guided by our history, traditions and texts, I side with my aggrieved people.  I act to defend and support them in their time of struggle.  I give my efforts and donations to ease their pain.  Israel and our people were unjustly attacked and have acted to rectify this injustice.  In my eyes, this is “tov v’yashar.”  I leave the ultimate judgment to the Ultimate Judge. 


I pray for peace and security, for healing and hope. 


The HaTam Sofer speaking according to the HaZal said that each human being should always view the world as balanced exactly between guilt and innocence: half righteous, half evil.  When he performs one mitzvah, he himself moves the world to the side of justice and good.  Our portion asks us to see the blessing and the curse before us.  God implores us to choose life and good.  Israel needs our actions in support of her.  Together let us choose to support the life of our people and help tip the balance toward goodness for the men, women and children of the State of Israel. 


Rabbi Gary Glickstein, a member of the UJC Rabbinic Cabinet is rabbi of Temple Beth Sholom in Miami Beach, Florida.

UJC Rabbinic Cabinet Chair: Rabbi Ronald Schwarzberg
Vice Chairs: Rabbi Jonathan Schnitzer, Rabbi Steven Foster
President: Bennett F. Miller, D.Min.
Honorary Chair: Rabbi Matthew Simon
Vice President, Jewish Renaissance and Renewal: Dr. Eric Levine
Mekor Chaim Editor & Coordinator: Avi S. Olitzky
Senior Consultant, Rabbinic Cabinet: Rabbi Gerald Weider

 E-mail this Page to a Friend

 Printer-Friendly Page

Copyright © 2022 United Jewish Communities. All Rights Reserved
Privacy Policy and Terms of Use