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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Your Guide

If Rabbi Kushner is suggesting that we need not be blameless but only wholehearted, does he mean that all we have to do is try our best? Is this enough for us? Is this enough for God? Is this what is intended in Deuteronomy 18:13?

What exactly bothers Isaiah? Is he simply railing against hypocrisy? Is he perhaps worried about a deeper issue, such as the compartmentalization exemplified by President Clinton's behavior in that he was able to act with caution and restraint in matters of state but not in his personal life? Is there a connection between Isaiah and the modern concept of compartmentalization?

In the 19th-century Lithuanian yeshivah founded by Rabbi Israel Salanter, the students were required to not only study Torah and Talmud but also to undergo an examination of their ethics and character. They were supervised by an ethical mashgiach (supervisor) who examined the students closely for blemishes in their character and behavior. Is it possible that our hearts will never be whole for God unless we are willing to carefully examine the blemishes and defects that make us "un-kosher?"

D'var Torah

There is no doubt that Deuteronomy 18:13 is a very important verse. At times it is either neglected or underrated because it appears in a portion that includes many significant rules and admonitions pertaining to justice, war crimes, conscientious objection, and protection of the environment. And as if that were not enough, in Shoftim we also find the famous phrase "Justice, justice shall you pursue" (Deuteronomy 16:20), which is always worthy of serious study and discussion.

I believe that there is a reason why being wholehearted appears in this week's portion. Perhaps Deuteronomy 18:13 will lead us to justice. And since this verse is viewed as one of the five great biblical passages, it possesses the power to be both timely and timeless.

The purpose of this verse may be to remind us that at times we approach God with an insincere heart, a heart that is neither whole nor full. Accordingly, we create a distance between ourselves and God. We erect barriers and obstacles that keep us far away from God. Is it our behavior alone that stops us from being wholehearted? Our behavior is indeed part of the problem, but it is not the entire problem.

Maybe we cannot be holy because we are not wholly for God: We only give and show part of ourselves to God. We are plagued by a disharmony that prevents us from connecting our hearts, words, and deeds to create a beautiful tapestry that is prosaic as well as Mosaic.

In essence, you cannot be wholehearted for God when your heart is reserved for another God or when you are unwilling to give any of your heart to God. A heart that belongs only to you and cares only for you is not a heart that can be whole for God.

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Rabbi Jim Simon

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