In Parshat Ha’azinu, Moshe uses a poetic form to describe how G-d runs the world, in particular, how He deals with the Jewish People. He starts off by saying:
הַצּוּר תָּמִים פָּעֳלוֹ כִּי כָל דְּרָכָיו מִשְׁפָּט אֵל אֱמוּנָה וְאֵין עָוֶל צַדִּיק וְיָשָׁר הוּא:
The Rock, His work is ‘tamim’, for all His ways are just; a G-d of faithfulness, no evil, righteous and straight is He. (Devarim 32:4)
‘Tamim’ is usually translated as “perfect” or “unblemished.” The reason for that translation is the numerous times this word is used to refer to sacrificial animals, which are required to be “tamim,” free of blemish. The word for “blemish” is “moom”, and it is used to contrast the behavior of the Jewish People with that of G-d:
שִׁחֵת לוֹ לֹא בָּנָיו מוּמָם דּוֹר עִקֵּשׁ וּפְתַלְתֹּל
They have corrupted, His non-children, with their blemish; a generation that is perverse and cunning. (Devarim 32:5)
The Parsha is not talking about animals, which might have a torn ear or a broken leg. What, then, is the blemish of the Jewish People, and conversely, what is the quality of ‘unblemished’ that is ascribed to G-d?
There is a commandment in the Torah,
תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה עִם ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ:
Be ‘tamim’ with Hashem, your G-d. (Devarim 18:13)
If the quality of ‘tamim’ belonged only to G-d, we could have translated this term as “perfect” and “unblemished.” But what does the Torah mean when using it in reference to human beings? How can we be commanded to be perfect and unblemished?
In the Haftarah, King David lists the different ways in which he has done G-d’s will. On that list we find:
וָאֶהְיֶה תָמִים לוֹ
I have been ‘tamim’ to Him. (Shmuel II, 22:24)
So whatever this quality might be, David has been successful in achieving it.
Like Parshat Ha’azinu, the Haftarah describes how G-d runs the world, in particular, how He deals with the Jewish People. This is how King David puts it:
עִם חָסִיד תִּתְחַסָּד עִם גִּבּוֹר תָּמִים תִּתַּמָּם: עִם נָבָר תִּתָּבָר וְעִם עִקֵּשׁ תִּתַּפָּל:
To a loyal person, You are loyal; to an ‘tamim’ man, You are ‘tamim’
To a clean person, You are clean, and to a perverse person, You are cunning
(Shmuel II, 22:25-26)
According to the Haftarah, if a person is ‘tamim’, then G-d is ‘tamim’ to him back, and if a person is perverse, than G-d is cunning to him back – just like the terms used in Ha’azinu. But here, the opposite of ‘tamim’ is not “blemished,” it is “perverse” and “cunning”.
“Perfect” is not a fitting antonym of “perverse” and “cunning.” What, then, is this quality of ‘tamim’, that is one of the ways we describe G-d, and is also one of the ways that we are expected to behave?
The commandment, ‘Tamim be with Hashem Your G-d’ appears in the context of fortune telling. We are forbidden to engage in any form of spiritualism, necromancy, or divination. Instead, we are asked to be ‘tamim’. The Torah is telling us not to play games with G-d, not to try to outguess Him, not to try to get insider information that we are not meant to have. The blemish that we need to avoid is guile.
The Haftarah says that when a person acts toward G-d without guile, without attempting to manipulate Him or trick Him, then G-d, too, acts toward him without guile, and rewards him according to his actions, pure and straightforward. King David points out that the converse is also true – when a person attempts to be perversely crooked, and thinks that G-d will not notice and will just go along with his plans, in fact, the opposite happens. G-d continues to reward him according to his actions, but being that his actions are crooked, the outcome is anything but straightforward.
In the ancient world, there were theologies and pantheons whose gods were cunning and manipulative, toward each other, and toward their worshippers. They would destroy or reward based on their transitory whims and fleeting desires.
When Moshe Rabbeinu and David HaMelech teach us how G-d runs the world, the most important point they make is that our G-d is not like that. He is a “rock,” He does not act on whims; He is ‘tamim’, guileless. He has a plan for the Jewish People and a plan for the world, and He acts to further that plan. Moreover, our own actions dictate how He acts towards us. When we are “perverse and crooked” and figure that we know better how the world should be run, and try to force G-d to our will, then that is a blemish that G-d does not tolerate in us. When we let Him run the show and follow His ways, then He protects us from all obstacles so that we can fulfil His plan.
We do not always see this happening. To our human eyes, it sometimes seems that the world goes in every which way but straight. As prophets, Moshe Rabbeinu and David HaMelech were able to see G-d’ ways as ‘tamim’. We are not prophets, but we are the descendants of prophets. Maybe if we do our part, if we are ‘tamim’, guileless, with G-d, and don’t try to manipulate or outguess Him, then we shall see it, too.