In Parshat Haazinu we read:
הַצּוּר תָּמִים פָּעֳלוֹ כִּי כָל דְּרָכָיו מִשְׁפָּט אֵל אֱמוּנָה וְאֵין עָוֶל צַדִּיק וְיָשָׁר הוּא:
The deeds of the [Mighty] Rock are perfect, for all His ways are just; a faithful God,
without injustice He is righteous and Yashar – upright.
The Avot, patriarchs, are often described as Yesharim, and Chazal occasionally refers to Sefer Bereishit as "Sefer Ha-yashar." The Netziv explains that Yashar denotes proper interpersonal conduct – when integrity and respect are shown even to those whose lifestyle we disapprove. For instance, Avraham prayed on behalf of the corrupt city of Sedom, whose values and conduct ran in direct opposition to everything he stood for. Yitzchak responded forgivingly to the leadership of Gerar even after they drove him from the city. The patriarchs were Yesharim because they acted in a dignified, respectful manner even towards those with whom they profoundly disagreed.
The Netziv goes on to explain that in this pasuk in Haazinu, Moshe foreshadows the destruction of the Second Temple, a calamity that God brought upon the Jewish people on account of the baseless hatred they displayed towards one another. That generation consisted of many distinguished scholars who were otherwise tzadikim, but they quarreled bitterly with one another. Every disagreement immediately bred mutual accusations of heresy, and the disputants treated one another with ruthless hatred. Moshe here declares that God is Tzadik ve-Yashar, He demands both spiritual piety (tzadik) as well as respectful manners (yashar).
This message contained within our Parsha is especially timely and relevant in our highly polarized culture.
It’s okay to disagree, even passionately. But when doing so, we must be careful to do it in an agreeable manner. We should listen to what the other side is saying, for it can help us understand them and even ourselves better. We should not impugn the other side’s motives. And we should think about “the day after”; how we plan on living together and working together going forward with those whom we share many values, while disagreeing on certain issues.
One of the names for the Jewish People, utilized in this morning’s Parsha, is Yeshurun.
Ibn Ezra suggests that the name “Yeshurun,” is derived from the Hebrew word Yashar – “straight.” It refers to the Jewish People in our ideal state, when we represent to the world a path that is passionate and opinionated and maybe argumentative, but always done in the spirit of Yashar. Let us learn from Hashem’s model of Tzadik V’yashar to engage in debates within the Jewish community from a spirit of civility, good will and unity.
On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in each Amidah we ask Hashem:
וְיִשְׁתַּחֲווּ לְפָנֶיךָ כָּל הַבְּרוּאִים. וְיֵעָשׂוּ כֻלָּם אֲגֻדָּה אֶחָת לַעֲשׂוֹת רְצוֹנְךָ בְּלֵבָב שָׁלֵם.
to create a scenario in which “all of creation will worship You, and they will be bound together as one, to carry out Your will with an undivided heart.”
The theme of Jewish unity continues into the holiday of Sukkot, when we bring together the four species to fulfill the mitzvah. Each one is different, and each one represents a different type of Jew with different perspectives. And yet when it’s time to fulfill the mitzvah, they put aside their differences and join forces in order to fulfill the Divine plan. Let us heed the lesson of this time of year by never losing sight of Jewish unity, and living up to our name as Yeshurun and Yesharim.