Parashat Shoftim

To Be Holy For God You Have To Be Wholly For God

The commandment to be wholehearted with God requires us to devote our entire beings sincerely to God.

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Provided by the Union for Reform Judaism, the central body of Reform Judaism in North America.

Parashah Overview

  • Laws regarding both sacred and secular legislation are addressed. The Israelites are told that in every dealing they should pursue justice in order to merit the land that God is giving them. (16:18–18:8) The people are warned to avoid sorcery and witchcraft, the abhorrent practices of their idolatrous neighbors. (18:9–22) God tells them that should an Israelite unintentionally kill another, he may take sanctuary in any of three designated cities of refuge. (19:1–13) Laws to be followed during times of peace and times of war are set forth. (19:14–21:9)

Focal Point

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

Your Guide

In Genesis 6:9 and 17:1, the Hebrew word tamim is used to refer to Noah and Abraham, respectively, and is translated as blameless. In Deuteronomy 18:13, the same word, tamim, is translated as wholehearted. Why is this word translated differently in our portion?

What does being wholehearted mean? Does it mean the same to you as being blameless?

Rabbinic commentators have written that only five biblical verses convey the essence of Judaism and this is one of them. Why do you think that they felt this verse is so important?

Deuteronomy 18:13 appears in a section that enumerates the abhorrent practices of sorcery and witchcraft. Does this knowledge affect how you understand the verse?

By the Way…

That, I believe, was what God asked of Abraham. Not "Be perfect," not "Don't ever make a mistake," but "Be whole." To be whole before God means to stand before Him with all our faults as well as our virtues and to hear the message of our acceptability.… Know what is good and what is evil, and when you do wrong, realize that that was not the essential you. It was because the challenge of being human is so great that no one gets it right every time. God asks no more of us than that (Harold S. Kushner, How Good Do We Have to Be? p. 180).

To be sure, they seek Me daily, as though eager to learn My ways. Like a nation that does what is right, that has not abandoned the laws of its God.… "Why, when we fasted, did You not see? When we starved our bodies, did You pay no heed?" Because on your fast day you see to your business and oppress all your laborers! (Isaiah 58:2–3).

Classical Jewish ethicists have attempted to illuminate the difficulty and significance of being wholehearted. "For you must know that words are a matter of the tongue, but meaning is a matter of the heart…. When a man prays only with the tongue, the heart is preoccupied with something other than the meaning of the prayer…. The prayer becomes like a body without a soul, a shell without contents.… Only the body is present; the heart is absent" (Bahya Ibn Pakuda quoted in The Book of Direction to the Duties of the Heart by Menahem Mansoor, p. 365) .

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Rabbi Jim Simon

Jim Simon is a rabbi at Temple Beth Am, Miami, Florida.