Rav Kook Torah

Psalm 140: The Tzaddik and the Yashar

“The Tzaddik (righteous) will give thanks to Your Name; the Yashar (upright) will dwell in Your Presence.” (Ps. 140:14)

What is the difference between the Tzaddik and the Yashar? Who is greater?

The Tzaddik loves goodness and virtue. He “gives thanks to Your Name” — he appreciates and values God’s absolute justice.

But there is a higher level: when this Divine goodness extends to all realms of life, even to those spheres which seem distant from spiritual matters. This is the aspiration of the Yashar.

The Sages referred to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as Yesharim (Avodah Zarah 25a). They rejoiced in all the good that God bestows to the universe. As Yesharim, they did not dissociate themselves from worldly matters. On the contrary, they were deeply involved in material occupations. They sought to elevate the world to its true goal of genuine perfection. This is how the Torah depicts the lives of the Avot: full of positive, creative activity.

The inner purity and harmony of the Yashar guides him, enabling him to attain perfection in all matters. He is able to contribute to the world’s progress and development, and still remain focused on inner spiritual growth. How does the Yashar achieve this?

Dwelling after Prayer

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levy taught that, after praying, one should wait an hour, as it says, “The Yashar will dwell in Your Presence” (Berachot 32). What is the purpose of this post-prayer meditation?

Prayer helps us raise our sights beyond the day-to-day worries and concerns. But the positive effect of prayer should not be limited only to the time of prayer. Ideally, the spiritual ‘lift’ which comes from prayer should extend to all aspects of life. All of life should be holy, directed towards goals of truth and righteousness. “Know Him in all of your ways” (Proverbs 3:6).

In order to connect the lofty emotions and understanding experienced in prayer to the rest of life, we need to take time after praying to contemplate the messages of that encounter. This is the essence of Rabbi Yehoshua’s teaching that one should wait an hour after praying. We need this time to absorb and internalize the prayer-experience, and apply it to all aspects of life.

This is the service of the Yashar. “The Yashar will dwell in Your Presence.” He extends the light of God’s Presence to all spheres of life. He is aware that the most profound praise of God comes from the beauty of a cultivated world, a world that gives pleasure to the spirit and refines the soul.

(adapted from Ein Eyah vol. I pp. 154-5)

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