Rav Kook Torah

Psalm 140: The Tzaddik and the Yashar


“ אַךְ צַדִּיקִים יוֹדוּ לִשְׁמֶךָ, יֵשְׁבוּ יְשָׁרִים אֶת־פָּנֶיךָ ”

“Surely the righteous (tzaddik) will give thanks to Your Name.
The upright (yashar) will dwell in Your Presence.” (Psalms 140:14)

What is the difference between a tzaddik and a yashar? Which is on a higher spiritual level?

The tzaddik loves goodness and virtue. He “gives thanks to Your Name.” He appreciates and values God’s true justice.

But the yashar has a higher aspiration: he yearns for God’s goodness to reach all realms of life, even spheres that are distant from spiritual matters.

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 ultimate goal of true perfection. That is how the Torah depicts the lives of the Patriarchs: full of positive, creative activity.

The inner harmony of the yashar guides him, enabling him to attain perfection in all matters. He is able to contribute to the world’s progress while remaining focused on inner spiritual growth. How does the yashar achieve this?

Dwelling after Prayer

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

Prayer helps us raise our sights beyond day-to-day worries and concerns. But the positive impact of prayer should not be limited to the time of prayer. Ideally, the spiritual influence of prayer should extend to all aspects of our lives. All of life should be holy, directed towards goals of truth and righteousness. As it says, “Know Him in all of your ways” (Proverbs 3:6).

If we wish to expand the lofty emotions and insight experienced in prayer to the rest of our lives, we need to take time after praying to contemplate the import of that encounter. That is the essence of Rabbi Yehoshua’s teaching that one should wait an hour after praying. We need this time to 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 holy light of God’s Presence to all spheres of life. He recognizes that the most profound praise of God comes from the beauty of a developed world, a world that gives pleasure to the spirit and uplifts the soul.

(Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. I, pp. 154-155, on Berachot 32)

Illustration image: ‘A Portrait of a Rabbi’ (Rembrandt, 1640-1645)