Rabbi Yonasan Sacks
Rabbi Michael Rosensweig

The Rigorous Simplicity of Temimut

In parshat Shoftim (Devarim 18:9-13), the Torah admonishes Klal Yisrael upon entering Eretz Yisrael not to emulate the excesses and deviancies of the indigenous population.  Klal Yisrael is specifically proscribed from obscene acts of idolatry ("maavir beno u-bito ba-aish"), various methods of prognostication ("meonen u-menahesh, chover chaver, shoel ov ve-yidoni, doresh el he-meitim"), as well as engaging in sorcery ("u-mechashef").   It is noteworthy that the Torah succinctly formulates the idealistic alternative to this deviant lifestyle by invoking the concept of temimut (wholeness, integrity, purity and simplicity)- "tamim tihiyeh im Hashem Elokechah." 

It is striking that the Torah itself does not define or elaborate the quality of temimut despite its obvious prominence.  Indeed, this quality characterizes many of our forefathers notwithstanding the diversity of their characters and personalities.  Noach's righteousness was depicted by this term ("tamim hayah be-dorotav").  Avraham Avinu, the father of Am Yisrael, is charged to be a tamim ("hithalech lefanai ve-heyeh tamim"), and Yaakov, the chosen of the avot whose name Yisrael is synonymous with the nation, is introduced with the credentials of "ish tam yoshev ohalim".  The Torah itself is characterized by this quality of temimut ('Toras Hashem temimah meshivat nefesh").

As we enter the month of Elul in preparation of the yamim noraim, we should reexamine this doctrine of temimut that serves as the foundation of our unique relationship with Hashem and as a primary vehicle for teshuvah ("meshivat nafesh"). 

The significance of temimut is particularly highlighted by the Ramban's perspective.  While the Rambam (Hil. Avodah Zarah 11:13,16) explains that this imperative rejects the authenticity of sorcery and other methods of prognostication, the Ramban (Devarim 18:9) insists that these alternatives are prohibited despite their efficacy.  Thus, for the Rambam "tamim tihiyeh" factually establishes Divine prophecy (as well as urim ve-tumim) as the exclusive epistemological source for supernatural knowledge.  According to the Ramban (Devarim 18:13), however, the obligation of temimut constitutes a singular halachic approach to life.  Indeed, the Ramban enumerated temimut as an independent mitzvah (aseh #8).  He also develops the centrality of temimut as an approach to Hashem in his discussion of the formative covenant between Avraham and Hashem (Bereishit 17:1). 

The halachic approach of temimut entails several interrelated components, each of which is indispensable to attaining teshuvah.  Unkelos emphasizes the need for an absolute (shalem) commitment to yirat Hashem.  Ibn Ezra (Bereishit 17:1) explains that the imperative of temimut militates against questioning the value and objective of the mitzvot.  Accordingly, Rashi (Bereshit 17:1) projects temimut as the basis of Avraham's ability to withstand the 10 challenges (nisyonot) that were designed to test the intensity of his faith.  Rashi (Devarim 18:13) also emphasizes the capacity to integrate hardship without second-guessing and with total equanimity that reflects bitahon (reliance upon Hashem).  According to Rashi, simple, pure, but profound faith and reliance on Hashem obviate the need to penetrate the future.  It is sufficient for one suffused in temimut to respond to Hashem's directives in the present with a sense of confidence that this normative, pious path will secure an appropriate future.  

The Ramban delineates various other facets of the temimut theme that form an ambitious and comprehensive (tamim) approach to halachic life.  Faith that is both comprehensive and integrated cannot tolerate the distraction of other forces and methods (as kishuf etc.).  Alternatives are irrelevant even if they are effective.  Moreover, the relationship between Klal Yisrael and Hashem, precisely because it is rooted in unconditional simple faith, is one that transcends the regular canons of natural and even supernatural law. The direct relationship, which the Ramban expands upon elsewhere ("ki chelek Hashem amo"), allows for Divine intervention that may contravene other media.  In any case, it certainly establishes the inadequacy of channels other than those that are halachically sanctioned, such as prophecy and urim ve-tumim.  Furthermore, the Ramban asserts that the approach of "tamim tihiyeh" entails a recognition that there is a correspondence between human responsibility and Divine providence.  Thus, temimut is a basis for human accountability and Divine retribution (sechar ve-onesh), linchpins of avodat Hashem generally, and especially of the process of teshuvah

Undoubtedly, the Torah did not specifically define this pivotal motif of temimut precisely because it is not so much a specific quality or even a group of properties, but rather a simple yet profound approach to halachic life.  Diverse Torah personalities and the wide range of Torah itself could be characterized by this term without trivializing or diluting the concept. Rav Soloveitchik once depicted his grandfather (R. Chaim ), father (R. Moshe) and other towering subtle and sophisticated halachic thinkers as being men of simple, innocent faith. It is critical that we renew our commitment to the simple yet ambitious foundation of temimut as we enter the month of teshuvah.  "Yehi libi tamim be-chukechah leman lo aivosh" (Tehillim 119:80).

Copyright © 2006 by The TorahWeb Foundation. All rights reserved.