Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
I was moved recently in speaking with one of my new students in the Religious School hallway looking sad. I asked what was wrong and she said, “I didn’t do very well on my test today.” When I asked her what grade she received, she said “I got a 92. You see, the thing is, I always want to get a perfect score. Actually, I like to do everything perfectly.”
I took a deep breath and thought about society in which so many of us strive for perfection. Searching the depths of my own soul, I began to talk a little bit to this sensitive and sweet student about some of our biblical ancestors who were, in fact, far from perfect. I told her about Adam and Eve who stole wisdom that was not theirs to take. I told her about Cain, who was abandoned by his parents, rejected by God and ignored by his brother; all of this boiling to the point where he could no longer contain his anger, as he turned to violence and committed the first murder in our world. I told her about Noah, who was called righteous in his generation; so righteous that he did not protect others in his society from the flood about which only he was informed. I continued by telling her about Abraham and Sarah, the founders of our people and our faith, who rarely communicated with each other. Of course, there was Isaac, who was blind to the needs of his children, while Rebecca, his wife, pitted one of her sons against the other. I explained to this young student that the chronicle of imperfection continues throughout the books of our sacred text, highlighting for us the flaw-filled nature of humanity in our world. Jacob’s trickery, Leah’s jealousy, Rachel’s defiance of God through idol worship, and of course, the spoiled, favored, and egotistical Joseph.
Our ancestors were flawed and so are we. In the spectrum of those characters, we see the mirror images of ourselves. It’s human nature to be imperfect, but that inclination somehow feels counter-intuitive for some of us. Many of us strive for the impossible. We attempt to escape imperfection by redefining or lowering the standards necessary for perfection, or sometimes by blaming our flaws on someone else. We learn from our ancestors in the Bible that imperfection is not necessarily a bad thing. I listed above all of their flawed traits, but what I did not mention was by the end of the Torah, our seemingly dysfunctional biblical family learn from their mistakes and reconcile with one another. They repent; indeed, they attain real wholeness which emanates from the depth of their pain, instead of attaining superficial perfection at the cost of their spiritual health.
We are human beings and, therefore, flawed to the core. But instead of beating ourselves up, we can realize that we have the potential to change. We can transform our flaws into something acceptable to ourselves. What we imagine we must do in order to change ourselves is often the very force, which keeps us the way we are. We can accept our faces in the mirror or we can pretend to be who we are not.
We have one life and one opportunity to be who we are. Life is not about products; it’s about process. Our souls are not the cold perfection of diamond, but the tumultuous, organic stuff of creation.
We can make our entire life a work of art, weaving the uncertainties of life, the flaws and imperfections, into a quilt of being. We can take ourselves, sometimes a bit flawed or cracked and create from it beauty.
All of us struggle with something. It is human to do so… and it is human to reach our hands across to one another to help bring wholeness to our community as we travel along our way.