Our Time to Self-Reflect

August 18, 2023 / 1 Elul 5783

There is a translation of a verse in this week’s Torah portion, Shoftim (“Judges”), that has always been troublesome to me. Therefore, I invite you to join me in a brief social experiment.

Grab your most easily accessible Torah, bible, or any English translation of the Hebrew Pentateuch (online sources are also acceptable) and look up the translation of Deuteronomy 18:13. I’ll wait…

<<Feel free to hum the Jeopardy theme song at this time>>

So, what did we discover? Well, the odds are that your translation reads something to the effect of, “You must be wholehearted with the Lrd your Gd.” It’s possible that the end of your translation may differ slightly, but most translations will have the key adjective identified as “wholehearted” (Christian Bibles often use “blameless”).

The rub, however, is that most biblical scholars and Talmudic rabbis translate the Hebrew word תָּמִים (tamim) as “perfect” rather than “wholehearted” (based on other places this word is referenced in the Torah). This would mean that the verse should read, “You must be perfect with the Lrd your Gd.”

Additionally, these same scholars also agree that this sentence should not be taken out of context and that they strongly believe that 18:13 applies only to the earlier verses of Gd forbidding Jews to engage in magic, sorcery, and fortune-telling mentioned in 18:10-12.

Yet, Rashi stands alone claiming that tamim should be translated as “simple-hearted” because of its root tam, meaning “simple/innocent/honest.” I do not know if our goal is to be “perfect,” “wholehearted,” or “simple-minded” in our relationship with Gd, that is beyond my paygrade. But, recognizing that today is the first of Elul, the month preceding the Jewish new year and our upcoming high holy days season, that has got me thinking about what our tradition teaches about our relationship with each other and with Gd.

Elul is our designated time when Judaism encourages us to repair our relationships with one another first. We ask ourselves, how can we enter the self-reflective time of the high holy days, if we haven’t done what we can to repair our relationships with each other first? How will we demonstrate respect, sanctity, and holiness to Gd if we are not demonstrating these same behaviors with one another?

Our tradition teaches us that before we ask Gd for forgiveness during the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we must first ask forgiveness during the month of Elul from those whom we have wronged during the year.

In order for us to approach Gd wholeheartedly, or with genuine innocence, we must first strive to “perfect” our relationships. This does not mean that we will be successful in every case, but in the words of the great poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, “It’s better to have tried and failed than to live life wondering what would’ve happened if I had tried.”

May we all have success in our attempts to rebuild our broken relationships. But if we are unsuccessful, may it not be because we didn’t try. Because we are…



Shabbat shalom,