Shofetim: reaching perfection must include the whole of our selves

Tucked away in today’s sidra, in a narrative about idolatrous worship listing the abominations practised by the surrounding peoples, is a verse that stands out for its shortness and its power:
תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה, עִם יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ.
You shall be whole-hearted with the Eternal your God. (Deut18:13)
The word translated here as “whole hearted” is “Tamim” perfect, whole, steadfast – but the word means so, so much more. It is used differently throughout bible to describe a set of characteristics of quite diverse people and things. Noah is described as an ish tamim hayah be-dorotav” – someone who was ‘tam’ in his generation. Jacob is described as of “ish tam yoshev ohalim” – a simple man (tam) who dwelled in tents.
The Torah itself is characterized by this quality of Temimut. The psalmist tells us “Torat Adonai temimah meshivat nefesh” ‘The teaching of the Eternal is temimah, renewing the soul” (Psalm 19:8). Even the presence of God in the world is described with this word: as Bible tells us of God, ‘The Rock, Whose deeds are perfect (tamim)’ (Deut. 32:4).
And of course there is that famous imperative when God first encounters and calls to Abraham, He says to him: (Genesis 17:1)
וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו אֲנִי-אֵל שַׁדַּי–הִתְהַלֵּךְ לְפָנַי, וֶהְיֵה תָמִים
“I am El Shaddai, walk before me and be Tamim” –
While the word is used repeatedly in bible, of different characters and different times, what is most remarkable is that with all that varied usage, the Torah itself doesn’t ever define or explain what temimut actually is. From context we can see that there is something within it about wholeness, integrity, rightness, a steadfast loyalty to God, blamelessness, uprightness – the synonyms could go on. And yet – when God tells Abraham to walk before God and be Tamim, it seems to be more than a sum of all these good attributes, or even a state of being. It is to somehow walk in the awareness of the presence of God, to see the world mediated through that experience of the divine. It seems to be more richly layered than simple whole-heartedness, describing something about the whole person, the good bits with the bad, the bits we like and the bits we are embarrassed about. We serve God with the full comprehensiveness and extensiveness of our lives.

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