Lech Lecha – Tamim

The Mishna (Nedarim 31B) tells us that, “Curcumcision is important since of all the commandments that Abraham fulfilled, he was not considered complete until he circumcized himself…”

The Talmud elaborates: “Rebi taught, circumcision is important, since nobody was as involved in the commandments as Abraham, and yet he was called “perfect” only after his circumcision…”

Although at first glance, it may appear that the Mishna and the Talmud are saying the same thing, upon further examination, it turns out that they are saying something different from one another.   While the mishna translates the word tamim as “complete,” the Talmud understands it as “perfect.”

One possible way of understanding the difference is that the Mishna refers to removal of the foreskin (circumcision) as removal as something negative, while the Talmud refers to it as something positive in that it allows the person to grow…However, this explanation does not account for other subtle differences that we see between the two statements. The mishna implies that it was not only circumcision that led to Abraham’s “completeness,” but also the other mitzvot.  However, the Talmud implies that Abraham was “perfect” only account of the circumcision.  So, we must look elsewhere to understand the word tamim...

We see that sometimes the word tamim is used to mean lacking any kind of blemish,” as when referring to sacrifices, which much be offered up complete, without any blemish.  However, tamim may also imply a very high level of quality, as in the Rambam’s statement (Hilshcot Isurei MIzbeach), “it is a positive commandment for all the sacrifices to be tamim and choice.”  And also, we see that the description of a complete year (both Heshvan and Kislev of thirty days) is called tamim.  Accordingly, there are two levels to tamim; one in which nothing is lacking, and the other which implies a greater level of completion.

Consequently, we may describe the two explanations of the Mishna and the Talmud: according to the Mishna, tamim means “lacking any blemish,” but according to the Talmud, tamim means something with a greater level of completion and perfection.

However, we find yet a third way of using the word tamim – as in “Those who make themselves tamim, God is tamim with them” (Nedarim 32A).  Here we see that tamim is not merely one who happens to be complete and perfected, but one who works upon himself and strives for perfection and completion.  The way to do this is by accepting whatever comes your way, without asking questions, as in the Torah commandment, “Be tamim with the Lord your God” (parshat Shoftim in Devarim).

The three definitions apply to all three forefathers, but we can see that each of the forefathers emphasized one of the definitions more than the others.  Abraham corresponds to the definition of tamim that means “without lacking or blemish.”  Since his early life was among idol worshippers, much of his avoda was to remove this blemish.  Isaac was a complete and perfected olah, or “burnt offering,” who never left the land of Israel, Thus, he corresponds to the definition of tamim as “complete” and “perfect.”  However, Jacob represent tamim as in the third definition – one who is constantly working upon and perfecting himself to rise to higher levels of holiness.

For more details and explanation, go to www.jerusalemconnection.org/weekly/w_LechLecha_5768.php

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol 30, page 44-52

 

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