Doing the right thing

In Parshat Vaetchanan, we learn about many specific mitzvot and then we are told (Dvarim 6:18) “Perform the upright and the good in God’s eyes, in order that you benefit, arrive in and inherit the good land that God swore to your forefathers.”

Rashi teaches that there are compromises that we need to make that go “lifnim meshurat hadin”, beyond what is outlined in the law.

We learn from here that the Torah is not just a rule book. We also have to put thought into the performance of the mitzvot. Even though the Torah may allow us to act a certain way, that doesn’t mean that we can’t be nicer and go beyond what the Torah commands us and do someone a favor or give them the benefit of the doubt.

There is an account in the Talmud, Bava Metzia 83a where Rabbah bar bar Hanna’s porters broke the jars that they were carrying. In theory, according to the contract, they should have been liable for the breakages. The porters asked Rav to plead their case. Rav told Rabbah bar bar Hanna that they should not have to pay for the damages and since they are poor men who worked hard all day they should be paid for their work, as it says in Mishlei (Proverbs) “In order that you may go in the way of the upright” and “You shall keep the paths of the righteous.”

Not all proper behavior is listed in the Torah and we must therefore use our judgment.

For example, in Vayikra 19:2 we are commanded: “You shall be holy for I, God am holy.”

Ramban explains that even though certain things are allowed according to the Torah, like eating meat and drinking wine, that doesn’t mean that we should be a “naval birshut HaTorah”, “fool by authorization of the Torah”. We are holy when we drink a little wine, we are not holy when we get drunk as we see clearly in the accounts of Noach and Lot in Sefer Breisheet. We are allowed to eat meat but there is no reason to overdo it. The Torah does not list how many pieces of meat should be eaten at each meal, but each person needs to determine what is appropriate.

In the Talmud, Bava Metzia 30b we learn: “Said Rabbi Yochanan, Jerusalem was destroyed because they acted in accordance with the letter of the Torah and did not go beyond it.”

As we observe Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of Comfort after Tisha B’Av, let us remember what Rabbi Yochanan said and work on rebuilding the Beit HaMikdash by helping others above and beyond what the letter of the law requires of us.”