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Oops, I made a mistake

Sunday, 5 July, 2020 - 10:31 pm

Question: 

I think I'm too sloppy for organised religion. I try to keep Shabbos, but often make a mistake and turn on a light. I do have a kosher home, but the amount of times I've accidentally put the milk spoon into the meat pot is embarrassing. I read the prayers but my Hebrew is so bad even G-d must have trouble understanding me. I'm not perfect and never will be. So why bother striving for perfection if I know I'll never get there?

 

Answer:

 

You are right. You should not strive for perfection. It's not the Jewish way. Improvement? Yes. But perfection? No.

 

I learnt this truth many years ago. I was just eighteen, studying in a Yeshiva in Israel along with several hundred other students from around the world. I hadn't been there long, but was quickly swept up in the atmosphere of intense Torah study and idealistic spiritual growth. I was loving it.

 

But then, one morning, a mini-crisis happened. Just after prayers, one of my friends came over to me with a concerned look on his face.

 

"I think your Tefillin may not be kosher," he told me. (Tefillin are phylacteries. I don't know what phylacteries are.) I asked him what he meant, and he pointed out to me that my head Tefillin didn't look perfectly square. It seemed that one of the corners was not an exact right angle.

 

This was serious. The hand-made leather boxes of the Tefillin are supposed to be square. If they aren't square, then they aren't Tefillin. They aren't even phylacteries. If my friend was right, if my Tefillin were slightly off, then I hadn't been wearing kosher Tefillin for years. I had been putting on unsquare unkosher Tefillin every day, which is as good as not putting Tefillin on at all.

 

I knew what I needed to do. I needed my head Tefillin examined. I rushed straight away to an expert in Jewish law. He was a senior rabbi who was famous for his decisive and clear judgments. I brought him my Tefillin and showed him the imperfect corner, fearfully awaiting his verdict.

 

The rabbi inspected the Tefillin, looked at me with his kind and wise eyes and smiled. He responded with one line, a quote from the Talmud: "The Torah wasn't given to angels."

 

I immediately understood what he meant. My Tefillin were just fine. When the Torah says to make your Tefillin square, it means you should make them as square as is humanly possible. We aren't perfect angels, and we can't make perfect angles. We are humans who can only do our best. And that is exactly what G-d requires from us.

 

If G-d wanted perfection, He would not have created us fallible humans. But He did create us, so perfection is obviously not what He wants. He wants us humans, not in spite of our sloppiness, but because of it. Perfection G-d has already. Imperfection on the other hand only we can give Him, when we dedicate our imperfect lives to His service.

 

Our squares won't be perfect squares, and our angles won't be exactly right. Humans make mistakes and sometimes get it wrong. But that's alright. We are not angels. We are not expected to be.

 

G-d wants your sloppy Shabbos. He wants your messy kosher kitchen. And He loves your attempt at Hebrew prayers. Doing your best, as imperfect as it may be, is perfectly human.

 

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Moss 

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