This proverb explores fairness (yashrus), which is an essential quality (middah) of a person’s character. Yashrus is the decency and fair-mindedness that motivates a person to act in a balanced and equitable manner. It was introduced by Mishlei in the third posuk of segment 01-01.
A person may be fair-minded from birth or as a result of the way he was brought up. With this quality is able to recognize and appreciate fair treatment, even in ambiguous situations.
There is a special relationship between fairness and integrity (temimus), which refers to an intellectual sense of discipline or conscientiousness that guides the fair-minded person to maintain consistency in his practices so that he is enabled to resist temporary aberrations caused by need or temptation. Integrity was mentioned earlier in segment 11-01 in the context of maintaining discipline in commercial practices.
Because of the many challenges to his character that a person faces in life, this quality is very demanding. Integrity calls for serious self-control to achieve total perfection in one’s middos. (See Segment 10-09)
Fair-mindness encourages a person to be grateful for favors. Thus, its opposite is disloyalty or treachery. The opposite of integrity is perversity or irresponsibility, which leads a person to neglect and resist discipline.
תֻּמַּת יְשָׁרִים תַּנְחֵם וְסֶלֶף בּוֹגְדִים יְשָׁדֵּם
(3) The integrity of fair-minded people will guide them,
but the perversity of the ungrateful will rob them.
The first part of this proverb teaches that a sense of decency (yashrus) is not enough. A person needs to be guided by the discipline of integrity. The second part illuminates the meaning of integrity and fairness by contrasting these attractive qualities with their opposites: perversity and ingratitude. By combining the destructive effects of these hateful qualities a person robs his own soul of the chance for eternal life.
The integrity of fair-minded people — ֹ תֻּמַּת יְשָׁרִים
will provide the discipline to guide them. — תַּנְחֵם
but the perversity of the ungrateful, — וְסֶלֶף בּוֹגְדִים
will rob them. — יְשָׁדֵּם
of their chance for eternal life.
(1) Integrity and fair-mindedness are complementary qualities, as it says (Iyov 1:1), וְהָיָה הָאִישׁ הַהוּא תָּם וְיָשָׁר , “that man was conscientious and fair-minded.” רבינו יונה))
(2) Fairmindness refers to an instinctive quality of recognizing and choosing what is right. It is a quality of the heart, which includes all of the good middos that are deeply implanted within a person. (רבינו יונה, מלבי”ם)
(3) Although fair-mindedness leads a person to follow the good path through life he can be diverted by physical needs and temptations. Thus, he has to apply integrity to maintain the perfection of his middos. (רבינו יונה, מלבי”ם, רשר”ה)
(4) The integrity of the fair-minded leads them to the achievement of their goals in life. (רלב”ג, מצודות)
(5) Repaying good treatment with bad treatment defines the opposite to fair-mindedness. (רבינו יונה)
(6) The perversity of the unfaithful robs them of their souls. (מצודות)
(7) Just as integrity will guide the fair-minded, the perversity of the treacherous will rob them of their ability to act with fairness, even if they have a passing inspiration to do teshuvah. (דעת סופרים)
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