17 Oct Who Is a Tzadik?
How would you define a tzadik or a tzadekess? Rav Kahaneman, the Ponevezher Rav, would ask this question often in his lectures. His answer was very concise. A Tzadik has a “Lev tov – A good heart.” Then, the Rav went on to add that, in Yiddish, you can describe him or her in one word: he is a gutskeit, a person who oozes goodness. Of course, Noach’s behavior in the teva, the ark, proves this when he selflessly and tirelessly fed and cared for the entire animal and bird kingdoms day and night without stopping for an entire year. It is for this reason that the Torah calls him an Ish Tzadik!
The Rabbeinu Efraim, a rishon (an early commentator around the time of Rashi), says that the gematria of the words Ish Tzadik, a righteous man, is the same numeric value as the word Hayashar, one who is upright. This, he says, proves that the true definition of a tzadik is one who has yashrus. But, what exactly does it mean to be a yashaar? If you go to Eretz Yisroel and ask someone for directions, he might tell you “Yashar, yashar,” meaning to keep on going straight. Thus, the meaning of the appellation ish yashar is a straight person, one who does not veer to the right or to the left.
You might say, “Rabbi Weiss, you’re talking in circles. What does that mean, a straight person?” The answer is that it’s a person who walks the derech ha-emtzah, the middle path, or what we call the shvil hazov, the golden road. He’s moderate in his behavior and not extreme or radical, either to the right or to the left. We have another name for such a person. He’s called normal. While that doesn’t sound exciting, the Rabbeinu Efraim considers such a person a Tzadik.
There is a daily reminder on our physical anatomy to remember this point. The tallest finger on everyone’s hand is the middle finger while the smallest fingers, the pinky and the thumb, are the two extremes. This teaches us that to stand tall in life is to walk the way of moderation, while it is the way of very small people to be radical in their behavior.
I was once talking to a shadchan for one of my children. The matchmaker asked me who I was looking for. I answered, “For someone normal.” The shadchan answered me wisely, “Normal is indeed a rare commodity.” They used to call my Rebbe , the venerable Rav Moshe Feinstein Zt”l, Zy”a, the Gaon of normalcy. In general, anything “too” is no good: too angry, too generous, too involved, too quiet, too loud, and the list goes on.
Rabbeinu Efraim offers another interpretation of Ish Tzadik. He prefaces it by defining the word tzedek, the root of the word tzadik, to mean prayer. He proves this with the Talmudic dictum that man should always pray in the morning before setting out to a journey. As the posuk states, “Tzedek l’fanav yaholoch v’yasim l’derech p’amov – Prayer (tzedek) should walk in front of you and only then should you set your foot to the road.” Thus, we see that tzedek means prayer.
I’d like to add that we see this also in the verse, “V’ani b’tzedek echeza Panecha – And I “btzedek” will see your (Hashem’s) Presence.” The Gemora understands this to mean that you should give charity (tzedakah) before appearing before Hashem in prayer. This is why many shuls have a slot in the wall for charity as soon as you enter the Beis HaMedrash. The Manchester Rosh Yeshivah, Zt”l, Zy”a, would bring a cup of coffee to his wife before going to shachris and, upon her passing, he brought negel vasser to his daughter before going to shul.
But now, we see another definition of “V’ani btzedek echeza Panecha.” Namely, and I with prayer (tzedek) will see your presence. For it is with prayer that we appear before Hashem three times daily. It is the righteous person who makes prayer the highlight of his day. May it be the will of Hashem that we achieve the rarified traits of a balanced life, may our hearts be full with gutskeit, and may we turn to Hashem in sincere prayer and devotion, regularly. In that merit, my Hashem bless us with good health, long life, and everything wonderful.