[Do not probe into the future, but] be simple-hearted with G‑d, your G‑d.

-- Devarim 18:13

Classic Questions

How is one to be tamim with G‑d? (v. 13)

Rashi: Walk with Him simple-heartedly (bet'mimus) and look for­ward to what He has in store. Do not probe the future, but rather accept whatever happens to you simple-heartedly. Then, you will be with Him and His inheritance.

Ramban: The word tamim means "perfect."

Thus, after the Torah warns us not to follow those who predict the future in verses 10-11, we are then told to be perfect in our faith that the future is in G‑d's hands, rather than seeking fortune-tellers who are not always correct.

"Be Simple-Hearted" (v. 13)

The word tamim has appeared on numerous occasions in the Torah up to this point, and its translation is always "perfect." For example, we find in numerous instances that the Torah requires a sacrifice to be tamim, which means perfect and without blemish.1 Furthermore, we also find that the word tamim suggests a perfection of character: Noach is described as a tamim, one who was perfect in his dedication to G‑d,2 and Avraham is told by G‑d, "Come close to Me in worship and be perfect (tamim)."3

Why, then, did Rashi veer from this interpretation (which is suggested by Ramban) in our verse, and write instead that tamim means, "Walk with Him simple-heartedly"?

The Rebbe's Teachings

The Explanation

Rashi could not accept that the meaning of tamim in verse 13 is "perfect," as it is inconsistent with the context of the verse:

In verses 9-12, we read of various prohibitions of fortune-telling and divining. The Torah then concludes by saying that instead of doing "these abominations" (v. 12), we should be tamim with G‑d. So being tamim is clearly a specific response to the desire to do these particular sins ("these abominations"). Thus, Rashi could not accept that tamim means "perfect" in this case, because "perfection" is a general term applying to all mitzvos, and not those specifically connected with fortune-telling.4

Therefore, Rashi argues that in this case tamim means (not "perfection," but) "simple-heartedness." This translation of the word is similar to the Torah's description of Ya'akov as a tam (Bereishis 25:27), meaning a simple, honest person—"one who is not knowledgeable... whose mouth speaks what is in his heart, and who is not skillful in deceiving others" (Rashi ibid.).

Thus, the Torah is commanding us here:

  1. Not to seek knowledge of the future (verses 9-12); but instead.

  2. To enjoy a complete sense of security in the faith and conviction that the future is safely in G‑d's hands (v. 13): "Walk with Him simple-heartedly and look forward to what He has in store. Do not probe the future, but rather accept whatever happens to you simple-heartedly."

Could Fortune-Telling Actually Work?

An interesting distinction that arises from the different approaches of Rashi and Ramban is the reason why the Torah forbids fortune-telling:

Ramban argues that the Torah forbids fortune-telling because only G‑d knows the future, so the words of the fortune-tellers cannot be true. Thus, we should be perfect in our faith in G‑d, and not rely on fortune-tellers.

However, Rashi argues that the Torah does not allow fortune-telling because a Jew should be "simple-hearted" and not even attempt to forecast future events. Thus, according to Rashi, it could be that some of the methods of fortune-telling mentioned here in the Torah would be effective. The reason why we may not utilize them is because G‑d finds this kind of activity "abominable" (v. 9, 12).

Is Prophecy Not a Form of "Fortune-Telling"?

An apparent problem with Rashi's approach is that it appears to apply equally to prophecy:

According to Ramban, who sees fortune-telling as being false and unreliable, it makes sense why G‑d gave us prophecy as a reliable alternative.

But Rashi deems the very notion of looking into the future as undes­irable, because a person should be "simple-hearted" and accept whatever G‑d has in store for him. This seems to contradict the fact that G‑d does indeed send prophets to warn the Jewish people of future events. Similarly, how does Rashi reconcile the practice of seeking a solution from the High Priest's breastplate5 with the requirement to "accept whatever happens to you simple-heartedly"?

Rashi answers this question by stressing: "Do not probe (tachakor) the future," i.e., the Torah prohibits a person from making intensive efforts to investigate the future thoroughly (cf. 13:15 above, where this term is used to describe the thorough cross-examination given to witnesses in court). The Torah does permit a person to consult a prophet (or the High Priest's breastplate) when there is a good reason to do so, but not as a means to probe extensively into one's destiny. In this way, a person can use some knowledge of the future to assist his service of G‑d, but still maintain a spirit of "simple-heartedness," innocence and trust in G‑d's benevolent Providence.

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 14, p. 64ff.)