"You must be wholehearted with the Eternal your God" Deuteronomy 18:13


Do not mess about with "soothsayers, mediums and people who talk to the dead. You must be wholehearted", or in Hebrew, tamim yihyeh, "with the Eternal your God". The image of the tam is known to us from the Seder, the simple child. Yet tam in Torah is not as simple as we think. Two individuals are specifically called tam. The first is Jacob, ish tam, a man who is tam. The second is Job, who is both tam, and yashar, or upright.

But neither of these men is simple. Jacob seems the very opposite. Tricking his brother out of his inheritance, Jacob spends a lifetime learning to straighten himself out, and only does so once he wrestles with an angel and acquires a permanent limp. Job faces a series of baffling and cruel losses. Tormented by everyone and everything, he refuses to give up on his own sense of integrity, even though he cannot make sense of his reality. 'I will not cast away my integrity from me!' His integrity, in Hebrew, is tumati.

Perhaps both Jacob and Job, models of the tam, are people who are able to learn from experience, bitter as it often is. They build from this learning towards their own integrity. This takes a certain kind of resilience, a willingness to learn and to look within.

The attraction of soothsayers and diviners is the possibility of by-passing real experience. It is an illusion of knowledge, without the effort. Real human learning takes time, and pain, and always involves mistakes. Yet, ultimately, when we piece together a life out of experience, we are closer to becoming tam, which turns out to mean not really simple, but whole.

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