Three takes on Tam

Three teachings on the verse, Be tamim (1) with the LORD your God. (Deuteronomy 18:13)

From Sefer Baal Shem Tov:

You must be tamim even when you are studying Torah, of which it is said “The Torah of God is temimah” (2); don’t say that the Torah is automatically called “the Torah of God.” Pay careful attention to this.

This is what the sages speak of in the teaching, “One who is walking on the way and reviewing his learning, and then stops his learning to say, ‘What a beautiful tree,’ or ‘What a beautiful field,’ scripture considers him as having committed a capital offense” (3). Now it could have said only “he stops his learning,” and we would have know that he had been reviewing his learning — why does it make a point to first tell us he was “reviewing his learning”? Another difficulty is that it says “scripture considers him” — but does not mention which verse of scripture (4).

The explanation is this: even one who walks on the straight path can be alone if he does not cleave to God. So here, “one who is learning and stops his learning” means he separates himself (5) from God because of his learning: his learning causes him to grow arrogant, for he identifies his learning as himself, and so he says, “What a beautiful tree,” meaning himself, as it says, “man is a tree of the field” (6), or “What a beautiful field,” as people are called a “field” by the prophet Jeremiah (7). Thus he believes that he is preparing for himself a portion in the world to come through his study, and so he is violating the verse, “Be tamim with the LORD your God,” which contains all of the Torah within it, and so it is as if he has committed a capital offense.

From Aharon of Karlin, Beis Aharon:

It’s written in the midrash, “When will you be tamim? When you fulfill everything that is written here. Also: When you are tam, then your portion will be with God.” This verse can be explained from beginning to end and from end to beginning. When will you be tamim? When you can be with God, that is, when you fulfill everything that is written here. And then, when you are tam, that is, when you see that the portion within you that is from God above is tam, then will your portion be with God, for a portion of you was taken from God so that it could be rejoined, portion to portion.

From Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, Kedushas Levi:

The principle is this: that the way of the Creator Blessed Be He is to do good, especially to Israel, the people close to Him, who are called His children (8). Certainly the father fulfills every lack and desire of his son before he needs it, and certainly a person who has such faith in the Creator will have his needs fulfilled. And this is what is hinted at in the verse: when you are living fully, with complete faith in the Creator Blessed Be He that He will fulfill your needs, then know that certainly you are with the LORD your God and He is with you.


1) Tam/Tamim has multiple meanings, several of which are used in the teachings that follow: perfect, wholehearted, complete, simple, pure.   2) Psalms 19:7   3) Pirkei Avot 3:9   4) The standard phrase “scripture considers him X” is usually followed by a particular verse which is interpreted in a way to mean X.   5) mafsik can mean both “stop” and “separate.”   6) Deuteronomy 20:19, also in our parshah; in the original context the verse reads “Is the tree of the field a man…?” but has long been read as a statement.   7) Jeremiah 4:3   8) Pirkei Avot 3:14

This entry was posted in Aharon of Karlin/ Beis Aharon, Baal Shem Tov/ Sefer Baal Shem Tov, Hasidic Masters, Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev/Kedushas Levi, Parsha, Shoftim. Bookmark the permalink.

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