Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Parashat Shoftim: On Being Complete

Tamim tehiyeh im Hashem Elokekha (Deut 18: 13). “You shall be tamim with the Lord your God.” What does tamim mean?

One interpretation of tamim is shalem --complete or whole. When you worship God, you should use your complete self: your heart, your mind, your soul, and your physical body. The Hizkuni reads it this way and quotes the following Proverbs verse as an illustration: Bekhol drakhekha da’ehu. “Know Him in all your ways “(Prov 3:6). Use all the tools available to you to try to reach Him, to know Him and worship Him. Don’t just stick your head in a book. Don’t just pray and sing. Don’t just do acts of loving-kindness. Be well-rounded in your worship of God. As the author of Hovot HaLevavot puts it, we should make sure that our insides match our outsides, that our heart, our tongue and our limbs are all in agreement in their worship of God. Having one part of you do one thing and another do another makes a person dishonest and untrustrworthy. Our whole integrated self is what God wants of us.

This reading may explain the connection to the tamim of sacrificial animals. Such animals must be tamim, physically perfect and whole, without blemish, without any part missing. So, too, we aspire to be complete in our worship of God, to not leave out any side of ourselves.

Tamim also implies a single-mindedness of devotion, a clarity of vision which sees that there are no other gods, there are no other priorities, no competing values to rival our commitment to Torah. Tamim. Be whole-hearted. Do not let any other interests compete with God, siphoning off some part of you and causing you to feel conflicted and confused.

But we are conflicted and confused, unable to be tamim, as whole and blemishless as a sheep. We are humans, by our nature incomplete and restless, restless with worry about the present and the future, restless about our place in the universe, and not so entirely sure about which is the right way to live.

Yes, says the Sefat Emet. All of that is true. And so the verse is careful to say, not simply, tamim tehiyeh, that you will be perfect and whole on your own, but tamim tehiyeh im Hashem Elokekha, that you will be able to reach this kind of shleimut, this kind of wholeness, only by being with God, the sole possessor of shleimut, wholeness, as well as shalom, the peace that comes from such wholeness. It is only in God that we find rest for our restlessness, completion for our incompleteness. Read in this way, the verse does not just prescribe the appropriate attitude toward God, but also describes an opportunity for us to resolve a basic human need.

This tamim verse appears in the midst of a prohibition against the use of witchcraft in the attempt to know the future. People pursue such knowledge precisely because they sense their incompleteness, says the Sefat Emet. The search for the future is an expression of human anxiety and insecurity. But witchcraft does not ultimately alleviate this anxiety, says the Sefat Emet; on the contrary, sorcery aggravates it by setting up the false expectation that humans can know and control their futures.

Ironically, the avenue to wholeness is to give up our solo pursuit after wholeness and instead allow ourselves to be completed through God’s wholeness. On Shabbat, when we cease our restless running, we achieve this wholeness and peace; we receive an extra neshama (soul) from above to complete us. The moment we stop trying to complete ourselves, there is room for us to feel the completeness of the divine presence.

Such a feeling is a kind of prophecy. That is why, says the Sefat Emet, the verse exhorting us to be tamim is followed immediately by the promise of continued prophecy. “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet from among your own people (Deut 18:15).” Instead of restlessly seeking a knowledge of the future, if we stand still –like a prophet -- and feel God’s presence, feel ourselves being completed by God’s completeness, we will have achieved the future, achieved a kind of eternal peace.

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful piece; living in Albany agrees with you.