This proverb helps us understand how a person who is eager to do the right thing can make the right choice even in an ambiguous situation. We refer to such a person as a tzaddik and we refer to the tzaddik’s intense desire to do what is right in the eyes of his Creator as tzidkus (righteousness).
The self-discipline (conscientiousness) that the tzaddik needs to ensure consistent perfection in his practices is called temimus (integrity). If he has temimus, we refer to him as a tamim.
But how does he know what he should do in a case where the law is unclear or the circumstances are murky? For that he calls upon his yashrus (embedded sense of right and wrong). He may have been born with a high degree of yashrus, but it is more likely that he developed it through training of his intellect, motivated by his tzidkus.
In any case, Hashem rewards his tzidkus by granting him siyata dishmaya (Heavenly assistance) to help him along. Once he has found the straight path, which is the path of yashrus, he will be able to avoid stumbling on the many obstacles that he is sure to encounter on the wrong path.
The opposite of tzidkus is rishus (wickedness), the embedded desire that some people have to be rebellious and choose what Hashem hates. The rasha (wicked person) is likely to stumble into the wrong choice even when he is unsure of what is right and wrong because Hashem does not grant him the help he would need to recognize the risks in the choices he wants to make.
צִדְקַת תָּמִים תְּיַשֵּׁר דַּרְכּוֹ וּבְרִשְׁעָתוֹ יִפֹּל רָשָׁע
(5) The righteousness of a conscientious person will straighten his path,
but the rasha will fall because of his wickedness.
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. What motivates him to acquire and use that discipline? His tzidkus (eagerness to do what is right).
The second part of the proverb illuminates the role of tzidkus by contrasting it with the impact of its opposite quality (rishus). Because of his rishus, the wicked person forfeits the benefit of siyata dishmaya and is likely to make the wrong choices, thereby allowing him to fall by the wayside.
The righteousness (tzidkus) of the man of integrity (tamim) — צִדְקַת תָּמִים
will straighten his path — תְּיַשֵּׁר דַּרְכּוֹ
so that his intellect is able to teach him what is right in any ambiguous situation.
But because of his wickedness — וּבְרִשְׁעָתוֹ
the rasha will fall — יִפֹּל רָשָׁע
because he lacks the sense of what is right and has not made the effort to develop it.
(1) A person who is tamim has a high degree of perfection in his middos. He may have this as the result of his upbringing or as the result of self-training.( רבינו יונה)
(2) The merit of the tzidkus of the tamim earns him a level of yashrus in his actions so that he knows how to do what is right. Thus, the hashgachah of Hashem arranges circumstances so as to lead to a good outcome in every situation. (רבינו יונה, חנוך לנער)
(3) The very act of goodness that the tzaddik performs will lead him to the right path, which will benefit him. (מצודות)
(4) Through his conscious desire to do good, the tzaddik introduces the strength of his intellect to bear to supplement his temimus and bring him to the right path. (הגר”א)
(5) The tamim is enabled to get on the straight path as a result of his habit -forming practices of doing the right thing. ( מלבי”ם)
(6) The rishus of the wicked person makes him liable to fall under the influence of sin. The hashgachah of Hashem arranges circumstances so as to lead to a bad outcome so that he is faced with temptations that he cannot resist.( רבינו יונה, חנוך לנער)
(7) The very act of rishus that the rasha has planned to cause harm will become a trap for the pepetrator. ( מצודות)
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