R. Buckminster Fuller, the thinker, lecturer, and futurist, wore three watches when he travelled: one to tell him what time it was in his home office, one set temporarily for the locality in which he happened to be that day, and one set for the time of day in the place he was next going.

Fuller’s unique approach to tracking time is a microcosm of his larger life goal, expressed in the form of a question, “How do we think in terms of wholes?”

In his book Operating Manual For Spaceship Earth, Fuller observes that the human world mimics the natural world in that both have been progressively organized for ever finer specialization.

Bucky argues that while society assumes that “specialization is natural, inevitable, and desirable”, we, the human astronauts together operating ‘Spaceship Earth’, need not fall prey to this type of thinking.

He points out that in observing a child, “we find it is interested in everything and spontaneously apprehends, comprehends, and coordinates an ever expending inventory of experiences.”1

His conclusion? “Nothing seems to be more prominent about human life than its wanting to understand all and put everything together.”2

In other words, the most natural and deeply human approach to life is wholistic.

This wholistic approach to experiencing and seeking to understand life, all of life, in a pure and perhaps childlike way, is something to which we should aspire because it leads us to pursue a deeper and broader understanding of the world, and universe, at large–As a whole.

In this week’s parashah, a very famous passuk says “tamim tehiyeh im HaShem Elokeikha”,

תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה עִם ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ

Be tamim with HaShem, your G!d (Dev. 18.13)

But how to understand this word – tamim?

Most chumashim translate tamim as “wholehearted”, and that the verse adjures the reader to be ‘wholehearted with G!d’, or ‘be wholehearted in following G!d’.

The Targum Onkelos uses the Aramaic word, Shalim, which in Hebrew is Shalem, meaning complete or whole. Onkelos therefore translates tamim tehiyeh as “Shlim tehi”, “Be whole with G!d”.

In The Living Torah, Aryeh Kaplan translates tamim as ‘to be faithful to G!d’.

David and Netanel Derovan point out that, when used in the context of the sacrifices, tamim means whole, complete, without blemish or flaw. In the context of our verse, the Derovans argue that tamim means not turn to fortunetellers or false prophets, but rather ‘to have complete, unblemished faith in G!d’.3

These are all interesting approaches which illuminate different facets of the word tamim. With these interpretations, our verse, Be tamim with HaShem, your G!d, means something like:

Be wholehearted with G!d

Be whole, shalem, with G!d

Walk faithfully with G!d

Have complete, unblemished faith in G!d


Still, the meaning of tamim is elusive.

Let us turn to the letters themselves. At its essence, the root of the word tam means to be complete, finished, whole.

The word tam notably appears in our Haggadah of Pesach, when one of the four children, who is called Tam, oft translated as ‘the simple child’, asks a simple question: Mah zot? “What is this?”

Four Sons of the Washington Haggadah, scribed & illustrated by Joel ben Simeon, 1478. Notice the similarities between the Tam son and the Chacham (learned) son: Both seated, both studying from books.
The Tam (detail), Washington Haggadah.

To understand this word, tamim, and what it is trying to teach us, more deeply, let’s look closer at its first letter, Taf.

In the ancient masorah (masorah here meaning tradition) there were many letters that needed to be written in a way that drew attention. The Alef in Vayikra, as many know, is writ small. The Bet in Bereshit is big. But there are all these other otiot meshunot, strange-looking and extraordinary letters in the text of Torah.

How many there are, where they are located within the text, that is already a different question. But the Masorah reports these particular oddities and they become very important. The Rambam, the Ramban, all the great Rishonim speak about them, yet in our sifrei Torah you will not find them, unless you go back a hundred years or more and then you will see them.

In his comment on this verse, Tamim tehiyeh, the Baal HaTurim points out that in the old books, the Taf of Tamim has to be written with a large letter (whether we have it in our local scroll, or we don’t have it, is already a machloket in how the letters were passed on in different communities).

Many people give reasons why this Taf is large. One person who gives a reason is Menahem Mendel of Kotzk, known as the Kotzker Rebbe. In the words of Rabbi A. Lieberman, who told over this teaching, Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk looked at this Taf and said:

Do you know why this Taf is large? To teach us a great lesson: that every single person can become a Tamim. You don’t need to be intellectual, you don’t need to be the smartest, the best, the wealthiest– Every single human being can achieve perfection on their level. But the one who is not allowed to enter, who can’t even understand it, is the one who is arrogant. So to teach us that we need humility, we make that Taf big and say: ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa! – if you’re big, you can’t enter here.’4

The Kotzker Rebbe associates the word Tamim, in this context, with self-knowledge, self-acceptance, and, crucially, the absence of arrogance. What does it mean that an arrogant person cannot enter? Regarding a person with an inflated ego G!d says: “I and he cannot dwell together.” In other words, the doorway to G!d’s house allows only for the humble of spirit to enter.5

This upcoming Shabbat is the fourth Shabbat of Comfort following the mourning period that led up to and culminated with Tisha B’Av.

Today is also Daled Elul, the fourth day of the month in which we strive to return from transgression to teshuvah prior to Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.

Daled, the numeral four, means door (delet) as well as poor (dal). Just as the Kotzker associated the Taf of Tamim with humility, the letter Daled is associated with the trait of selflessness, kindness, and humility by Rabbi Akiva. In his teachings on Daled, Rabbi Akiva writes that this is how a human being in Israel behaves:

He lives in this world and recognizes his Creator with all his heart and proceeds with sincerity and humility. He does not grow arrogant against anyone else and does not say in his heart, “I am better than this person and that.” He does not respond to the poor with a haughty heart and does not curse anyone who is of low rank, who tithes charity for the poor, and performs kind deeds for the wealthy by extending a loan. He turns his mind at every moment to his Creator and says with humility and with a lowly spirit, “What am I?”6

Rabbi Akiva is proscribing the appropriate behavior of a commoner, and yet in this week’s parsha, a similar ethic is proscribed for a King:

 וְהָיָה כְשִׁבְתּוֹ, עַל כִּסֵּא מַמְלַכְתּוֹ–וְכָתַב לוֹ אֶת-מִשְׁנֵה הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת, עַל-סֵפֶר, מִלִּפְנֵי, הַכֹּהֲנִים הַלְוִיִּם.

וְהָיְתָה עִמּוֹ, וְקָרָא בוֹ כָּל-יְמֵי חַיָּיו–לְמַעַן יִלְמַד, לְיִרְאָה אֶת-ה’ אֱלֹקיו, לִשְׁמֹר אֶת-כָּל-דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת וְאֶת-הַחֻקִּים הָאֵלֶּה, לַעֲשֹׂתָם.

 לְבִלְתִּי רוּם-לְבָבוֹ מֵאֶחָיו, וּלְבִלְתִּי סוּר מִן-הַמִּצְוָה יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאול–לְמַעַן יַאֲרִיךְ יָמִים עַל-מַמְלַכְתּוֹ הוּא וּבָנָיו, בְּקֶרֶב יִשְׂרָאֵל.  7{ס}

When [the king] is established on his royal throne, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this Torah … It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to be in awe of the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not feel superior to his brethren or turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time in the midst of Israel {Setumah}.(Deut. 17:18-20)

Whether commoner or king, a mentsch (a human being) feels neither superior nor inferior to anyone else. The only entity which inspires awe is the King of the Universe, none other.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l defined humility through these very verses. Teaches Rav Sacks,

Humility is not low self-regard…Humility means that you are secure enough not to need to be reassured by others. It means that you don’t feel you have to prove yourself by showing that you are cleverer, smarter, more gifted or successful than others. You are secure because you live in God’s love. He has faith in you even if you do not. You do not need to compare yourself to others. You have your task, they have theirs, and that leads you to co-operate, not compete.8

Rabbi Sacks’ teaching on humility sounds strikingly like the Kotzker Rebbe’s reason for the large Taf in Tamim: Both Rabbis emphasize that true greatness comes not through comparison of ourselves to others, but rather striving to compare ourselves to ourselves. Can we strive to find our own path to walk in G!d’s world, and treat others not with judgement but with kindness?

Rabbi Sacks identified humility “quiet dignity”. In his words, “When God is at the centre of our lives, we open ourselves up to the glory of creation and the beauty of other people. The smaller the self, the wider the radius of our world.”9


Tam. Tamim tehiyeh.

When it comes to dealing with HaShem, it has to be on the level of Tamim.

Whether one translates Tam as ‘simple’, ‘wholehearted’, ‘whole’, ‘wholesome’, ‘faithful,’ ‘perfect’, or even ‘childlike’, as may be the case in our Haggadah, the foundational factor for walking in tmimut with the Creator of the Universe is having a very very humble spirit. A childlike-wonder spirit. A divinely awestruck and kindly spirit.

Buckminster Fuller knew this, too. As he wrote in his Operating Manual:

“I find it very important in disembarrassing ourselves of our vanity, short-sightedness, biases, and ignorance in general, in respect to universal evolution, to think in the following manner. I’ve often heard people say, “I wonder what it would be like to be on board a spaceship,” and the answer is very simple. What does it feel like? That’s all we have ever experienced. We are all astronauts.” 10

As we approach the Days of Awe, how do we think in terms of wholes?

We have learned that to be Tam one must be humble enough to see the world in wholeness, not merely as the sum of its parts, and wonder through the eyes of our inner child. To be Tam, one must treat others with respect, and constantly ask the simplest questions:

Mah zot?   /   What is this?

Mah ani?   /   What am I?


And if we walk along the pathway of tmimut, what is our reward?


The Baal HaTurim writes that one who walks in Tmimut will be considered as having upheld the Torah entire from Aleph to Taf, from beginning to end.

Rabbi Akiva writes that such a person earns double reward, enjoyment of the fruits of their labors in both this world and in the world-to-come.

One who walks in Tmimut not only walks the world in perfect wholeness with HaShem, but thinks in wholeness, and behaves with wholesomeness, too. Such a person speaks softly yet carries themselves with confidence that is ironclad. Such a person thinks big, yet listens to the still, small voice.

The Tam moves through space kindly, and divinely, with a mindset to build a better present and future for all, at all times.


Shabbat Shalom,


Daled Elul, Hei Taf Shin Pei Alef

Shabbat Shoftim

L’Yom Huledet Shel Mem haNehederet B”H, Ad Meah v’Esrim


  1. Buckminster Fuller, Operating Manual For Spaceship Earth, 1969, p. 3.
  2. Ibid.
  3. David and Netanel Derovan, “Be “Whole” with God – Tamim Tehyeh Im HaShem Elokecha”, Sept. 1, 2011. Accessed 8.12.21. <https://www.davidderovan.com/?p=226&gt;
  4. According to Rabbi A. Lieberman. Remarks on Shoftim, 5780.
  5. See Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, The Hebrew Letters, Gal Einai:2002, p.67
  6. The Aleph Bet of Rebbi Akiva, translated by Yaacov Dovid Shulman, 5778, p.33
  7. A Setumah is a closed space in the text of the Torah scroll, indicating a section break. In printed and digitized forms, a setumah is notated with a bracketed samech: {ס}.
  8. Jonathan Sacks, “The Greatness of Humility”, Shoftim, 5776. Accessed 8.12.21. <https://rabbisacks.org/shoftim-5776/&gt;
  9. Ibid.
  10. Buckminster Fuller, Operating Manual For Spaceship Earth, 1969, p.14