“אוֹר זָרֻעַ לַצַּדִּיק; וּלְיִשְׁרֵי-לֵב שִׂמְחָה.” (תהילים צ"ז:י"א)
“Light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart.” (Psalm 97:11)
Based on this verse, the Talmud (Ta’anit 15a) concludes that while the tzaddik (the righteous) has light, the yashar (the upright) is blessed with joy. Why is this? In general, what is the difference between a tzaddik and a yashar?
When mentioned together, we find that light comes before joy. Thus it says, “The Jews enjoyed light and joy” (Esther 8:16). This order indicates that joy is the final goal, while light is a means to that goal.
We may understand the difference between a tzaddik and a yashar through an interesting question raised by Maimonides in Shemonah Perakim (ch. 6). Who is greater: the one who is naturally inclined to do the right thing? Or a person who must overcome negative tendencies to do what is right?
The better person, Maimonides concludes, is the one with noble traits and good inclinations. Individuals who have purified their hearts and refined themselves so that their desires naturally correspond with Ratzon Hashem (the Divine Will) — they truly cleave to God and His ways.
Those who must struggle against evil inclinations, however, suffer from internal conflict. Their actions are not in harmony with their desires. It is only the Torah, whose teachings they have not fully internalized, that enlightens their moral darkness and guides them on the proper path. Their lives in this world are a constant battle, and they only attain serenity and true happiness in the world to come.
Now we may better understand the verse. Tzaddikim conquer and correct (matzdik) their actions, guided by the light of Torah. This light is ’sown’ — like a seed planted in the soil, it will only sprout and reveal itself at a later time. Since the tzaddikim spend their lives combatting evil inclinations, they are not able to feel the joy of their enlightened path. By fulfilling God’s Will through Torah and mitzvot, they acquire this ‘planted’ light, whose benefits they reap at the time of reward. It is through the Torah’s light that they will merit the joy of the future world, enjoying the splendor of the Shechinah, the Divine Presence.
The yashar, however, is a different story. The phrase yishrei-lev literally means ‘those whose heart is straight.’ Their hearts and desires are at one — ‘in line’ — with Ratzon Hashem. Thus they are able to enjoy the future happiness of the world to come already in this world. “Joy for the upright in heart.”
(Adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. II p. 17)