“What’s that?” exclaims the ,תם often translated as the “simple” son, on Seder night. But does the word תם really mean simple? When employed to describe an animal, in its’ different form, תמים, it is commonly translated as whole or perfect. Is the same understanding relevant when the adjective is applied to people?
The term תם is used to describe various characters in Tanach. Noach is referred to as an איש צדיק תמים. Ya’akov is called an איש תם יושב אוהלים and Iyov is introduced to us as an איש תם וישר ירא אלוקים.
All these seem to point to the use of the wordתם as something positive. However, it seems unlikely that it means simple in these cases. It is also not necessarily a superlative. Whilst it is found within a list of positive traits with respect to Noach, we are all familiar with the opinion in Chazal that Noach’s righteousness was of a limited scope. The description of Ya’akov as an איש תם occurs prior to his metamorphosis during his encounters with both his brother Esav and his father-in-law Lavan. At the end of these it is unclear whether the term תם would still apply to Ya’akov. With respect to Iyov, it is clear that he is described positively but how to judge Iyov depends on our understanding of the Sefer as a whole. Suffice it to say that there are those who suggest that Iyov was not the perfect character that others paint him to be.
In this week’s parsha, Shoftim, we find a small passuk which leaves us puzzled as to the meaning:
תמים תהיה עם ה’ אלוקיך” – You should be ‘tamim’ with Hashem your God. “ (Devarim 18:13)
As opposed to the examples cited above, here the word תמים is not used as a description but rather as a commandment. We are required to be תמים. What does that require of us?
Rashi explains that the Torah is telling us not to follow superstitions and other forms of black magic which are referred to in the previous verses. Do not try to predict the future. Rather, instructs the Torah, follow Hashem and accept one’s fate and destiny. We suggest that this idea can be embellished by looking at another episode in the Torah.
Students of Tanach will have noticed that there is an obvious omission from the above list. (How many of you were thinking of the king of Tzur described asתמים in Yechezkel, perek 28?) Avraham Avinu is not actually described as תמים but Hashem instructs him:
“ התהלך לפני והיה תמים- Walk before Me and be ‘tamim’” (Bereishit 17:1)
We assume that Hashem is not demanding of Avraham to be simple nor is He telling Avraham that he should endeavor to be perfect. In order to understand what God wants from Avraham we need to view the context of this passuk.
The enjoinment to Avraham appears at the beginning of the chapter known as “Brit Mila”, the covenant which Hashem makes with Avraham which culminates in the mitzvah of Brit Mila. Many mefarshim and modern commentaries discuss the need for this covenant as God had already made a similar agreement with Avraham, known as “Brit Ben Habetarim” (Bereishit 15). We will not delve into this lengthy discussion at this juncture but rather look at what transpired between the two britot.
After “Brit ben Habertarim”, during which Hashem assures Avraham once again that he will have many descendants, Sarah gives her maidservant Hagar to Avraham in the hope that she will bear a child who will be an offspring to Avraham and Sarah. We cannot ignore the fact that this initiative was taken following the covenant made between Hashem and Avraham. It would appear that Sarah, with Avraham’s blessing, is doing her “hishtadlut”, her effort, to ensure that the Divine promise will indeed come true. As we know, this episode did not ensue as Sarah had hoped. Due to the bad feelings and pursuant actions that took place between Sarah and Hagar, the latter fled the patriarchal home. She was coaxed back by none other than a Heavenly angel and only after he had assured her of her son’s future. (The saga continues several chapters later when Avraham eventually has to evict Yishmael and Hagar from his home in spite of the pain this must have caused him.)
How does Avraham relate to this episode? He and Sarah made an attempt to advance the Divine plan, yet it caused them grief and much difficulty. Although Avraham now had a son, was the price too great to pay? And what of this son’s future with the clear question of which of his two “mothers” will raise him?
We now return to the beginning of chapter 17, Brit Mila. Hashem is about to inform Avraham that his legacy will continue not through Yishmael, but rather through an as yet unborn son. What would be Avraham’s reaction? We know that Avraham expressed surprise when Hashem does tell him that Sarah will give birth to a son and wonders why Yishmael was not chosen as the heir to his tradition.
We suggest that this is what Hashem means when he states והיה תמים. “Avraham,” says God, “Sometimes you have to accept that the Divine plan is bigger than you and you do not have control over it.” Yes, you are to be commended for your attempt to move the Divine program forward but Hashem may have intended things to be different. Does this use of the word תמיםmean simple or naïve? It would seem to denote the ability to rely on God’s judgment even when one does not fully understand it.
Let us return to our parsha. Like Avraham, the Torah enjoins all of Am Yisrael to be תמים עם ה’ אלוקיך. We have to understand and accept that in the end Hashem knows best. As Rashi stated there is no point trying to ascertain the future by foreign means. We must comprehend our role in the world and although we should always do our “hishtadlut”, things may not turn out as we had hoped.
Over the last few weeks, Israel and its inhabitants have been through a very difficult period. As I write these words, the future is unclear as the hostilities have restarted. Our soldiers and our government are doing their utmost to ensure the safety of the citizens of Israel. Not always are they successful. In the end, it is at times like these that we must beתמים עם ה’ and accept that Hashem does protect and look over Am Yisrael even though we may not understand His ways.
Shabbat shalom and besorot tovot,