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“Integrity,” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

September 2, 2022 | 6 Elul 5782

Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings as we move toward Shabbat. You can listen to it as a podcast here.

Integrity is a choice of how one wants to lead and to inspire. It also reflects the decisions one makes about one’s life.

In this week’s Torah portion, Moses warned the Israelites that in the land they would enter, they would encounter abhorrent practices by those there. Those who consign children to the fire, augurs, soothsayers, those who consult ghosts and inquire of the dead would run rampant. They would need to distinguish themselves through their loyalty to the Divine. They will need to summon inner strength so as not to succumb to the reprehensible behaviors that would surround them. The language of instruction is very specific.

תָּמִ֣ים תִּֽהְיֶ֔ה עִ֖ם יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶֽיךָ

You must be wholehearted with the Eternal your God. (Deuteronomy 18:13)

It is a positive commandment of what they should do rather than not do. It is clear and to the point. They must do it or rather, be it. What does it mean to be wholehearted? The Hebrew word is תָּמִ֣ים tamim.

Elsewhere in the Tanach, we find reference points. Noah is a person of tamim. To be the one chosen to build an ark, gather the animals, and convince the family to spend more than five weeks on an ark took a special kind of skill. He caught the attention of God by his behavior. As Rabbi Elyse Goldstein wrote: Here wholeness is understood as bravery: stand out and speak up even when the rest of the world around us is silent; be innocent when others are guilty. Noah was whole — tamim — in a broken world.

Abraham received God’s invitation: “Walk in My ways and be whole.” Abraham and Sarah followed the path with the Divine. They found strength in righteous behavior, even amidst their own human foibles. Abraham was willing to speak for the vulnerable, to argue with God.

Psalm 15 speaks of the kind of person who has access to the Divine. “Who may dwell on Your holy mountain?” The psalmist inquired and answered immediately. “The one who lives without blame.” To live without blame, tamim, means that one is motivated to do what is right beyond glorification of oneself. When one operates in the world without an ulterior motive, that person lives without blame. It is pure intent rather than a self-absorbed pursuit.

The English choice of the translation for tamim revolves around bravery, righteousness, and blamelessness. It is what makes a person whole and not pulled in all kinds of direction for specious intent. Another way to define tamim is integrity.

A Hasidic commentator, Pinhas of Koretz highlighted how one should be wholehearted with the Eternal your God. He explained the value of God’s presence in performing this sacred obligation because it is easy to fool others. A person can act as purely innocent, and yet be involved in all types of devilish schemes, or that person can pose as most humble of all, while pride rages within him. The Torah stresses that one may be able to fool others, but in the end one cannot fool God. The reckoning will come sooner or later. (Itturei Torah, pg. 265)

As the new moon of Elul appears and we prepare for the New Year in [less than] one month, let us reflect on those we witness with integrity manifest in the purity and wholesomeness of their actions. Let us use these moments as a window into our own souls of what captivates us so that we may analyze and search within to discover our best selves in how we are and want to be. Let us all aspire to be wholehearted with the Eternal our God.

(originally shared 8.21.20)

Shabbat Shalom!

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Rabbi Elaine Zecher