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Ve'asita Hayashar Vehatov


ועשית הישר והטוב


I would like to focus this week on the Ramban’s famous explanation to the verse:

ועשית הישר והטוב בעיני ה' (דברים ו, יח). It seems clear that this is not a specific mitzvah, but rather a more general mitzvah. The question our commentaries here try to answer is what the general mitzvah is referring to.

Rashi explains that this law is a commandment to do  פשרה, to compromise. He adds: לפנים משורת הדין – going beyond the letter of the law.

The Ramban here elaborates on Rashi’s commentary at length. The Ramban sees this verse as a fundamental key to understanding and keeping mitzvoth in general.

According to the Ramban, in order to understand this mitzvah we must read it in context. The previous verse (17) states : "שמור תשמרון את מצות ה' אלוקיכם, ועדותיו וחוקיו אשר צוך"

Verse 17 is a general commandment to keep the mitzvoth. Therefore our verse ועשית הישר והטוב בעיני ה' can’t possibly be repeating the same idea, but rather must be adding an additional  requirement, one which is not included in verse 17. Therefore, concludes the Ramban, ועשית הישר והטוב בעיני ה' is referring to mitzvoth which were not given to us in the Torah. The Torah could not possibly bring down every single case of behavior between people. Rather, after giving us many specific halachot such as not speaking Lashon Hara, not taking revenge etc., the Torah expects us to extrapolate the fundamental, governing principles of these mitzvoth, and apply them to any real life cases that can occur.

This is the meaning of ‘beyond the letter of the law’ according to the Ramban – even though the case is not written in the Torah, use your common sense to deduce, from existing laws, what the law in this case would have been.

What is interesting about this Ramban, which is based on Rashi’s words, (Ramban attributes the idea of compromise and beyond the letter of the law to ‘our sages’, which generally means Chazal, but it does not appear in Chazal), is that the Ramban adds a new dimension to Rashi’s commentary. The simple meaning of Rashi’s commentary is that the law of ‘beyond the letter of the law’ applies to judges, who are commanded to rule beyond the letter of the law. The Ramban takes this idea and applies it to the individual, thus making this verse a key verse in our daily interpersonal behavior.[1]

It is of interest to note that the judges in the secular courts of the state of Israel in their rulings take our verse into consideration. To quote Aharon Barak, the former chief justice of Israel’s supreme court:

"ערכי היסוד של המשפט העברי מעצבים את דמותנו כעם וכמדינה. בהם באים לידי ביטוי היותנו לא רק מדינה דמוקרטית אלא גם מדינה יהודית. ערכי יסוד אלה הם חלק  מערכי היסוד של משפטנו. יושם נא אל לב: הפנייה לערכי היסוד של המשפט העברי אינה פנייה אל משפט משווה. זו פנייה אל משפט ישראל. זו פניית חובה. הפנייה אינה אל כל ערכיו של המשפט העברי. הפנייה היא לאותם ערכים המהווים חלק ממשפט המדינה".

And to end with a quote from the gemara in Baba Metzia (30b):

דאמר רבי יוחנן: לא חרבה ירושלים אלא על שדנו בה דין תורה. - אלא דיני דמגיזתא לדיינו? - אלא אימא: שהעמידו דיניהם על דין תורה, ולא עבדו לפנים משורת הדין.

In merit of our judging others beyond the letter of the law, may ה' judge Am Yisrael beyond the letter of the law.

[1] One should observe the similarities between the Ramban on this verse and the famous Ramban on the verse "קדושים תהיו כי קדוש אני ועשית הישר והטוב בעיני ה' " (Vayikra 19,1). The methodology the Ramban applies to both places is the same, but he explains the general mitzvah in kedoshim as referring to mitzvoth bein adam lamakom (prishut), and the mitzvah in our parsha as referring to bein adam lechavero.




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