This parsha, as you all know, opens the book of Vayikra- Leviticus, which is chiefly concerned with the laws of the levi'im, kohanim, and the korbanim- the sacrifices.
Reb Simcha Bunim, zt”l,the Pshishkha Rebbe and teacher of the Kotzker, zt”l, opens with an interesting drash (interpretative sermon) on this parsha (weekly Torah reading). Quoting from Midrash Vayikra Rabbah (the Great Exegesis of Leviticus), he reads, “Baruch HaMakom sh'siper Atzmo im hatzadikim harishonim”, “Blessed is God who told of himself to the righteous of old”, which refers to the Avot (Patriarchs). “When He had not yet given the Torah to them, they observed it of themselves.”
What does this mean? To explain this he brings a few pasukim (verses), chief among them from Tehillim (Psalms): “Ashrei temimei derech, haholchim b' Torat Hashem”, “Blessed are those whose way is tam, who walk in the Torah of God.” The word “tam” here means simple, whole, healthy, right. It expresses a person in harmony with their own nature.
Reb Simcha explains that when the Torah was not yet given the patriarchs fulfilled it as a natural expression of their own “temimut”, their tam-ness. He says, “They walked in their own temimut and that temimut taught them what to do.” The Torah proceeds from the temimut- the wholeness and rightness -of Hashem, explains the Rebbe, and the temimut of the patriarchs was such that their temimut led them to embody the actions that flow from the temimut of Hashem. In this way, the Rebbe says, they unified themselves with Hashem and this is the meaning of “he told of Himself to the righteous of old” and the basis of their ability to “observe it of themselves”.
When the Torah was given to Am Yisroel (the people of Israel), it was an expression of the Temimut of Hashem given to us in a form we, who are not of ourselves tam like the Patriarchs, can understand. When we fulfill the temimut of the Torah then we are able to approach and embody the temimut that the Avot possessed.
You might be wondering what this has to do with the parsha, which deals with sacrificial laws, and here the Rebbe comes to it. Avraham fulfilled all the Torah, and this includes korbanim- sacrifices- which Bereishit doing without being commanded by Hashem to do so. Even this his temimut told him to do, says the Rebbe. There was one sacrifice, however, which Avraham had to specifically commanded to do. Rebbe continues that the fact that the sacrifices were an expression of temimut is proven by the fact that the sacrifice of Yitzhak had to be commanded- offering up his son like a sheep was not something that arose out of his whole and right nature! With Yitzhak, however, it is different. Whereas it was not natural for Avraham to offer up Yitzhak it was natural for Yitzhak to offer up himself as he did, going willfully up the mountain with his father even though he had figured out what was happening. “This teaches us that Yitzhak too reached the temimut of Hashem and this temimut told him to offer himself up like a sheep for offering.” And this teaches us, he concludes, that “fortunate are the ways of the tam, for they walk in the Torah of Hashem.”
Two questions were in my mind as I finished studying this drash. 1) what does it mean that the temimut of the Avot embodied, or become one with, the temimut of Hashem? How does that work?; and 2) How do we apply what we learn from this in our daily lives?
The answer that I came to for the first question rests on serious contemplation of our nature as created in the divine image. When you want to make a knife you consult a blueprint, a pattern, for what a knife is to be and what you want it to do, and then you make it. When Hashem created us he consulted a pattern, a blueprint, which was the image of Himself. Our inner nature, our true nature, is that of the divine image. To be tam means to be in harmony with this which is our true interiority, the true pattern of our being. When we are such we naturally embody God's character, which means that our actions are Torah.
2) The Rebbe said that the Torah is such that it leads us to “tamness”. We do not possess the level of temimut that the Avot did, but the Torah was given in order to lead us to that temimut. When we are properly observing the Torah, then, it should make us more tam. If that is not what is happening, then there must be a mistake. That mistake may be in our understanding of Torah, in our attitude towards it, in the way we observe it. But we should question ourselves and introspect.
Thank you very much.