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(Deut 16:18 - 21:9)

D'varim/Deuteronomy 18:13   You shall be whole with the L-rd your G-d.


According to most of the commentators, the word is the key to this verse. It is an adjective, used a lot in the book Vayikra, to describe both the people bringing offerings, the priests who offer them and the sacrificial animals themselves. It comes from the root - to complete, finish; to be completed, ended; to be perfect, upright (Davidson) - and is variously translated "complete, perfect, whole, sound, without blemish or defect, upright" (Davidson). Gunter Plaut comments that it is related to another adjective from the same root, which can mean "simple, innocent", thus suggesting that Israel is to have simple, undivided loyalty to G-d. Most English Bibles translate it here as 'wholehearted'. The Who Is ...

Ba'al HaTurim: Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher (1269-1343 CE), born in Cologne, Germany; lived for 40 years in and around Toledo, Spain; died en route to Israel; his commentary to the Chumash is based upon an abridgement of the Ramban, including Rashi, Rashbam and Ibn Ezra; it includes many references to gematria and textual novelties
Baal HaTurim points out that the first letter of this word, according to the scribal tradition, is to be written oversize - - "to indicate that if you will walk wholeheartedly with G-d, you will be considered as having fulfilled the entire Torah."1 Jeffrey Tigay gives a extended meaning: "undivided in your loyalty to G-d, relying on Him alone." He then compares this verse to Joshua's words to the Israelites "Revere the L-rd and serve Him with undivided loyalty; put away the gods that your forefathers served beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt" (Joshua 24:14, JPS).

As this text follows several verses of instructions not to engage in occult practices, a number of the commentators connect the wholeheartedness with enquiries about the future. The Who Is ...

Sforno: Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno (1470-1550 CE), Italian rabbi, philosopher and physician; born in Cesena, he went to Rome to study medicine; left in 1525 and after some years of travel, settled in Bologna where he founded a yeshiva which he conducted until his death
Sforno, for example, says, "Even when you seek to enquire as to the future you shall enquire of none other than Him, through a prophet or the Urim and Tumim". G-d is the only one who may be rightly consulted about the future. Wholeheartedness is being seen as being totally committed to G-d in all things. Who Is ...

Rashi: Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105 CE), French rabbi who wrote commentaries on the Torah, the Prophets and the Talmud, lived in Troyes where he founded a yeshiva in 1067; focuses on the plain meaning (p'shat) of the text, although sometimes quite cryptic in his brevity
Rashi, referring to Sifrei 137, adds, "Walk with Him with wholeheartedness. Look ahead to Him, and do not delve into the future. But rather, whatever comes upon you, accept with wholeheartedness, and then you will be with Him and of His portion." What Is ...

Targum Onkelos: An early (1st-2nd Century CE) translation/paraphrase of the Torah into Aramaic; attributed to a Roman convert to Judaism, Onkelos; used in Babylonian synagogues during the Talmudic era
Targum Onkelos changes 'with' to 'in the fear of' to make the verse read: "You must be wholehearted in the fear of the L-rd your G-d." Drazin and Wagner explain that both targums Onkelos and Jonathan do this because 'with' implies an improper attachment to G-d. Targum Neophyti goes one step more, rendering, "You shall be wholehearted with good deeds with the L-rd your G-d".

Who Is ...

Ramban: Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman of Gerona or Nachmanides (1194-1270 CE), Spanish rabbi, author and physician; defended Judaism in the Christian debates in Barcelona before making aliyah
Nachmanides follows Targum Onkelos and explains that "you should not be deficient in the fear of Him, for indicates perfection in a thing - without blemish and any deficiency." Richard Elliott Friedman picks up on the 'unblemished' idea in his Torah commentary and translation, to look at the people to whom this word is applied and their relationships with G-d: "'You shall be unblemished with YHVH, your G-d.' This word is the mark of the recipients of the first two covenants with G-d. It is the word used to describe the merit of Noah (B'resheet 6:9); and G-d tells Avraham to be unblemished as well in the opening words of the covenant (B'resheet 17:1). The only other person described in the Tanakh by this word is Job. Now all the people of Israel are recipients of the third covenant, and so all of them are instructed to be like Noah and Avraham."

Lastly, Rabbi Who Is ...

Hirsch: Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888 CE), German rabbi, author and educator; staunch opponent of the Reform movement in Germany and one of the fathers of Orthodox Judaism
Hirsch talks about wholeness in the sense of unity and the importance of unity among G-d's people. He starts with the oneness of G-d - as found in the Sh'ma: "Hear, O Israel! The L-RD is our G-d, the L-RD is one!" (D'varim 6:4, NASB) - and says that unity among G-d's people, reflecting G-d's oneness, is "the only way to realise the mission of being , the Chosen People". The people is made up of individuals, each one of which is to be totally focussed on and committed to G-d: "We are not to cut the slightest particle of any phase of our life away from G-d, we are to be with G-d with our complete life, with every fibre of it." Notice his emphasis on that word from the text, 'with'; it is not enough to serve G-d, to praise G-d, to study His word, to obey His commandments - we are to be 'with' G-d, in His presence, covered by His shadow, involved with and in G-d. That's a vibrant call from an orthodox Jewish rabbi, one of the fathers of Orthodox Judaism as we know it today.

During the days of King Ahab of Israel, Elijah the prophet was used by the L-rd to challenge the people over their idolatry and worship of the false gods Ba'al and Ashera. After three years without rain, Elijah forced Ahab into a face-to-face showdown on Mount Carmel. Each side turned up to call on their god and a lot of the people came to see what would happen. At the start of the contest, "Elijah approached all the people and said, 'How long will you keep hopping between two opinions? If the L-RD is G-d, follow Him; and if Baal, follow him!' But the people answered him not a word" (1 Kings 18:21, JPS). The phrase in the middle could also be translated "limp on two crutches". Elijah could see that the people were crippled by their inability to make a clear decision over who really was god in the Land. His question seemed simple; all the people needed to do was to follow the right god and everything would get resolved. But the people were unable to respond; they couldn't say. Hence the miracle, the demonstration. When the fire fell and consumed Elijah's sacrifice to the G-d of Israel, whereas nothing at all had happened to the Ba'al sacrifice, the evidence was on the table. But strangely, even then, although the people fell on their faces at the time, that still wasn't enough to turn the country around so that the northern kingdom of Israel eventually fell to the Assyrians. There is evidence both in Scripture and from archaeology that Israel continued to try to run YHVH and Ba'al side by side: Yahwistic names for people and places, clear cultic sites and remains.

James too highlights the same issue in the early believing communities: "the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the L-rd; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways" (James 1:6-8, ESV). A lack of faith - taking the L-rd at His word, acting firmly and resolutely to follow Him - destroys our ability to receive anything from G-d. Like a beam on a knife-edge balance, which is by definition an unstable system, constantly tipping to one side or the other as weight is added to or removed from either side, so a man who is trying to keep two opposing systems - the kingdom of G-d and the kingdom of this world - in balance, will be unstable in everything he does: taking a decision first this way and then that. He too is hopping between two opinions or limping on two crutches.

And yet the act of keeping a balance, of offsetting one thing against another, or trading off profits and losses, seems to be an essential part of the human condition. As the popular saying goes: some you win and some you lose. It is an accepted part of life that "stuff happens". Even when he has been grievously afflicted, without warning, explanation or apparent reason, and his wife urges him to curse G-d and die, Job reminds her, "You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from G-d and not accept adversity?" (Job 2:10, NASB). Yet the verse goes on to tell us that Job did not sin; in everything that happens, he has faith to accept that it comes from, or at least has the sanction of G-d. Of course, the narrator has told us of the conversations between Satan and G-d behind the scenes, so we know that this testing is going on with G-d's approval and within strict limits that He has set, but Job does not. Job has simply been on the receiving end of high loss of family, wealth and just about everything in his life. In spite of all that, he nevertheless he does not sin; he does not step over the line of renouncing a belief in G-d's overall sovereignty. In the following chapters, he may rail against G-d and the injustice of what is happening to him, but throughout, he maintains that G-d is in control, even if he doesn't like what is happening to him.

Perhaps James has Job in mind when he writes, "Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which G-d has promised to those who love Him" (James 1:12, ESV). This is where we all need to be: trusting in G-d's sovereignty and overall goodness, that He will - in time - right all wrongs, make recompense for apparent injustice and reward those who faithfully trust in Him. By the way, ranting can be good; G-d is big enough to take it and appreciates us keeping the channels of communication open, rather than shutting down on Him.

1. - Based on the Hebrew alef-bet, doing something from to , from beginning to end.

Further Study: Joshua 23:14; Psalm 39: 1-13; Isaiah 40:28-31

Application: Have you railed and ranted to G-d recently about the injustice in the world, or even the limitations and restrictions in your own life (we all have them)? Take a few moments today to tell Him exactly what you think and how you feel - then be still before Him and let Him speak into the silence, with His words of grace and calm.

© Jonathan Allen, 2014



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