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We all want to be perfect. In fact, if we're honest, we want to be perfectly perfect - perfect in everything we do: sports, work, school, home, a perfect spouse, parent or child.
Of course, we all know we're not perfect. We'll humbly admit it. (We can even admit our imperfection - perfectly.) And we'll never be perfect, certainly not in every nuance of life.
Still, we'd like to be perfect at something: building model trains, cleaning the house, raising our children. But that's not possible either.
And most of the time, we live with our imperfections, flaws and shortcomings just fine. We do the best we can, as the saying goes, and muddle along.
Every once in a while, though, we get caught in the Perfection Trap, the almost compulsive need to be perfect. Some people, of course, are perfectionist by nature. Such people don't limit their perfectionist impulse to any one thing. Everything they do has to be perfect, immediately, the first time. And often, their perfectionism paralyzes them.
Even when we expect perfection only in one area, once being perfect moves from an ideal or a desire to an expectation, we become paralyzed, at least in the endeavor where we expect ourselves to be perfect.
Why is that? What is perfectionism, anyway?
Perfectionism is like the machine language of a computer - 1 or 0, all or nothing, perfect or junk.
And since we know we can never really be perfect, everything we do must be junk. And if whatever we do is junk, why bother? It's useless, a waste of time - and so we don't do it. We do something else instead. Or nothing.
And then the next stage is, if everything we do is junk, then we are ourselves must be junk. No wonder perfectionism paralyzes us! It makes us treat ourselves like garbage.
That can lead to a sense of despair. We can give up and take the attitude, if we can't do it all, we won't do it at all. We'll do nothing.
So we have to not only recognize we'll make mistakes, but embrace but the opportunity to learn and grow from them, to add in our observance and learning as a result. That's called teshuva.
But why were we created imperfect in the first place?
Perhaps you've heard the joke about the sanctimonious man who, on seeing his neighbor's well-tended, orderly garden said, "You must be very grateful that G-d gave you such a magnificent plot of land, such fruitful trees, such bountiful crops." His neighbor, already advanced in years, looked at his garden, then looked at the unkempt fields around him and said, "True, G-d gave me a lot to work with. But you should have seen how the place looked before I got here."
On a more serious note, the Sages discussed the question, why wasn't the world created perfect, and concluded that the imperfection, such as it is, exists so that we, through our Torah and mitzvot (commandments) and acts of loving-kindness, can perfect it. Tikun Olam. Repairing the world.
In other words, the very imperfection of the world is its perfection: it makes us partners, but only if we participate in the process. For we reach perfection - the times of Moshiach and the era of Redemption - in stages, in a two-steps-forward-one-step-back motion. The progress, the individual mitzva, must be kept paramount if we are to grow in our observance, our learning.
But we have the assurance of the prophets, and the Torah, that we will reach the time when "the whole world will be filled with knowledge of G-dliness." We will reach perfection - imperfectly.
In this week's portion, Beshalach, we read the song of the Children of Israel led by Moses after the splitting of the Red Sea and the special song of the women led by Miriam the Prophetess.
In the Egyptian exile, it was Miriam who relayed the prophecy that a redeemer would emerge. Even when the leaders of that generation could not foresee an end to servitude and oppression, she spread hope and trust among her people.
When her mother was forced to place Moses, the future redeemer of the Jews, in the Nile, her father Amram approached Miriam and asked her, "What will be the result of your prophecy? How will it be fulfilled?"
Miriam remained at the banks of the Nile and "stood at a distance to know what would happen to him." Our Sages explain that, in addition to her concern for her brother's future, she was concerned about the fate of her prophecy. How indeed would the redemption come about?
In a metaphorical sense, this narrative is relevant to all Jewish women, those living at present and those whose souls are in the spiritual realms. Concerned over the fate of the Jewish people, they anxiously await the Redemption.
The anxious anticipation of the redemption felt by Miriam - and by all of the Jewish women in Egypt - was paralleled in its intensity by their exuberant celebration when, after the miracles of the Red Sea, that redemption was consummated. After the men joined Moses in song, the women broke out in song and dance, giving thanks to G-d with a spiritual rejoicing which surpassed that of the men.
The Torah's description of this celebration also testifies to the deep faith inherent in Jewish women. The commentaries relate that as the women prepared to leave Egypt, they were so confident that G-d would perform miracles on behalf of their people in the desert that they took tambourines with them so they could rejoice when the time came.
In the very near future, we will celebrate the ultimate Redemption. We can now experience a foretaste of this impending celebration. Although we are still in exile, the confidence that the Redemption is an imminent reality should inspire us with happiness. For the Jewish people have completed all the Divine service necessary to bring the Redemption. To borrow an analogy of our Sages, the table has already been set for the feast celebrating the Redemption, everything has been served, and we are sitting together with Moshiach. All that is necessary is that we open our eyes.
The experience of such happiness demonstrates the strength of our trust in the promise of the Redemption, and the expression of this faith will, in turn, hasten its realization. Adapted from a talk of the Rebbe, Shabbat Beshalach 5752-1992
Drawing My Soul
by Netta Levran
In the Spring of 2000, around Passover time, there was a terrible bombing in Israel and an entire building collapsed killing 40-50 people. I received a call from a friend of mine who was in Israel urging me to say Tehillim (Psalms) for the souls of the people who had perished. I had never even heard of Tehillim but she was so adamant about it that I agreed.
I can't explain it, but from the moment I opened the book and started to read the chapters of Psalms I became completely enraptured. This is where my journey back to my Self - and in essence to G-d - began. I like to think that I was brought back to my Jewish roots through King David himself, as his Tehillim was really the stepping stone that returned me to Judaism.
In the chapter of Psalms that I opened to, King David has turned to G-d in desperation. He asks G-d, "Karva el nafshi ge-ala - draw near to my soul and redeem it." I spent a great deal of my life feeling the isolation and desperation described by King David. Even as a child and through my adolescence into early adulthood, I always felt somewhat removed from my Self - like something was missing. I went through countless trials of different ways trying to fill - literally an emptiness - where I knew my soul should be. Most of the things were not only destructive but actually took me further away from myself.
For some reason, after reciting the Tehillim, I had the urge to read the Bible, which I had never done before. I had gone to a conservative Jewish day school, as my parents had always stressed the importance of Jewish education. I had grown up in a home where being proud of being a Jew was always paramount. We had celebrated Shabbat and the Jewish holidays. But I had never read the Bible before. I took out the first volume of Chumash (the Five Books of Moses), and began to read. I read through all five volumes of Chumash, just the "basic storyline." And then, I went back to the parts that I thought were "interesting," like the creation of the world and the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. I studied those sections with the commentary of Rashi.
By this time, my friend who had originally urged me to recite Tehillim was back in Los Angeles. During her travels in Israel she had become connected with Chabad and had studied off and on in Chabad-affiliated women's yeshivot in Israel. My friend had brought me back a gift from Israel, a Chitat. ("Chitat" is an acronym for Chumash, Tehillim and Tanya - the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy). My friend started studying Tanya with me. When I read the first words in the very beginning of Tanya, that a person is made to swear before he is born, "Be a tzadik (righteous person) and do not be a rasha (wicked person)" I knew I had to learn more about Chabad Chasidut.
Within a short period of time I met young people my age who were part of the Chabad community in Los Angeles. They became my peer group. I didn't know anything about Crown Heights, Brooklyn, but I got this idea into my head that I had to go to Crown Heights, and especially to Machon Chana Women's Yeshiva located there. My parents didn't think that Crown Heights was the place for me at that time in my life; I was only 18 years old. But, I was a big strong-minded and impetuous and I went ahead and booked a flight anyway. I showed up at the Machon Chana dormitory at 7 a.m. one morning, totally unannounced and unexpected. The dorm mother, Mrs. Gitta Gansburg, opened the door and my words tumbled out about how I wanted to be in Crown Heights and study in Machon Chana and learn Chasidut. Mrs. Gansburg agreed to let me stay in the dorm. At the end of a month, she and I both agreed that it wasn't the right time yet for me to be there.
I returned to Los Angeles and started college. I was a biology major and a nursing student. A few years passed and I continued to struggle, trying to find myself. I started attending classes on a regular basis in Chasidic philosophy that were offered in the community. But I was still struggling with who I was.
When I was 22 years old, I decided it was time for me to find a "mashpia," a spiritual mentor. Over the next two years, my mashpia continuously encouraged me to study full-time in yeshiva, at Machon Chana in Crown Heights or Machon Alta in Sfat, Israel. I didn't want to disappoint my parents who were very adamant about me completing my degree and so I continued in college. The time came, though, when I felt that I had to take a break and do something for my Self. So, this past fall, I came back to Machon Chana, to study full time.
Machon Chana has been my "karva el nafshi ge-ala - draw near to my soul and redeem it." There are parts of my life before I got here that are truly dark - spiritually, physically, emotionally. Being at Machon Chana has not only taken me out of darkness but whatever darkness remains is starting to become lighter! I have acquired skills not only in being close to G-d, but practical skills for life as well.. It's not an easy undertaking...it takes actual physical work! People who know me know how I've fought - really against my Self - to reveal this G-dly light in my soul and I've only been here a few months. There is still much work to be done, but that is really the point of life in this world: elevating the soul and as result, the world around us. Machon Chana has given me the tools to not only reveal this light on the inside but that it should emanate to the outside.
The Invisible Book
The Invisible Book is the newest release from HaChai Publishing. In this rhyming book for ages 2-5, a young boy ponders the invisible nature of many things that are indisputably real. An excellent introduction to important Jewish concepts for the very youngest children. Written by Bracha Goetz and delightfully illustrated by Patti Argoff
Growth Is The Sign Of Life
From a letter of the Lubavticher Rebbe
The central and focal point of this month is the New Year for Trees, which brings to mind the well-known Biblical analogy, "Man is like a tree," an analogy that embraces many aspects, general and particular. Since this analogy is given by the Torah, the Torah of Truth, it is certain to be precise in all its aspects, each of which is instructive in a general or particular way, for every one of us, man and woman.
For such is the purpose of every detail of the Torah (meaning, "instruction") - to induce everyone to reflect on it and derive practical instruction from it in everyday life.
Accordingly, I will refer to some general points of the said analogy.
To begin with, the essence of a living tree is, above all, that it grows; its growth being the sign of its being alive.
The purpose of a tree is to be - in the words of the Torah - "a fruit-tree bearing fruit after its kind, whose seed is within itself," which is, to produce fruit with seeds from which will grow trees and fruits of the same kind.
Indeed, the perfection of a tree lies in its ability to produce trees and fruits to all posterity.
To translate the above points in human terms:
A human being must grow and develop continuously, however satisfactory the level may be at any given time. This is also indicated in the expression of our Sages - whose sayings are concise but profoundly meaningful - ma'alin b'kodesh, "holiness should be kept on the ascendancy."
Similarly in regard to the second point: A human being should produce "fruits" for the benefit of many others beside himself; the kind of benefit which is coupled with delight.
The meaning of "delight" in this context will become clear from the distinction in regard to the seven species of produce with which the Land of Israel is praised in the Torah: A land of wheat and barley, and vine, and fig, and pomegranate, a land of olive oil and (date) honey." Wheat and barley are basic goods necessary for human sustenance, while the fruits of trees are both sustaining and nourishing as well as enjoyable and delightful.
And the third point: One must strive to produce "fruit-bearing fruits," so that the beneficiary enjoying these fruits should in turn become a "fruit-bearing tree" like the benefactor.
Needless to say, the "fruits" of which we are speaking here, are those which our Sages specify, saying, "the fruits of Tzadikim [the righteous] (which includes every Jew and Jewess, as it is written, "And Your people are all Tzadikim") are mitzvos [commandments] and Good Deeds."
These are some of the basic teachings of the New Year for Trees, which have an immediate practical relevance to each and every Jew, man and woman. There is a further allusion to this in the meaningful Jewish custom to eat on this day various kinds of fruits which grow on trees.
And when a Jew firmly resolves to proceed from strength to strength in all matters of Torah and mitzvos, both in regard to himself and in disseminating them in his environment, he has the assurance of realizing his fullest potential - "like a tree planted by streams of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season; its leaf also shall not wither, and whatever he does shall prosper."
Until the time will be ripe for the fulfillment of the promise, "the tree of the field shall yield its fruit," in the plain sense, meaning that even non-producing fruit trees shall produce fruits.
Are there special customs associated with Tu B'Shevat, the New Year for Trees?
Tu B'Shevat occurs on the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shevat (this year January 22). It is customary to eat from the 5 fruits (of the seven grains and fruits) that the Torah enumerates when describing how blessed is the Land of Israel: "A land of wheat and barley, and (grape) vines and fig-trees and pomegranates; a land of olive-trees and (date) honey." (Deut. 8:8) These seven grains and fruits are called the seven species (shivat haminim) and they have a special status. It is also customary to eat a "new" fruit that one did not eat yet that season in order to recite the "Shehecheyanu" blessing on it.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat is known as "Shabbat Shira - the Sabbath of Song." During the Torah reading on this Shabbat we read the special song of praise to G-d which the Jews sang after crossing the Red Sea.
For Shabbat Shira there is a special custom of putting out food for the birds. The reason for this custom is quite interesting and originates in this week's Torah portion. We read this week about the manna, the bread from Heaven, with which the Jews were sustained during their 40-year sojourn in the desert. The Jews were commanded to gather each morning just enough manna to feed their families for the day. Miraculously, each person had precisely the amount he needed for his family, not more and not less.
Before Shabbat, the Jews were told to gather a double portion; no manna would fall on Shabbat since it is forbidden to gather on the holy day. Some scoffers among the Jewish people saved some of their manna from that morning and scattered it on Friday evening. Their plan was to gather the manna Shabbat morning and bring it into the camp, thus discrediting Moses and proving their claim that Moses created his own mitzvot.
During the night, after the manna had been strewn, birds came and gathered it all up, thus vindicating Moses and sanctifying the Sabbath among the Jewish people.
In appreciation and gratitude of the birds' deed, we make sure to give them food on Shabbat Shira.
Might we not take a lesson from this Jewish tradition, passed on through the ages? If it is customary to show gratitude to birds for such a small act, might we not also learn to show gratitude to our brothers and sisters for each act of kindness or caring that they do for us?
Pharaoh drew closer (hikriv)...and the Children of Israel cried out (Ex. 14:10)
The Hebrew word "hikriv" is a transitive verb, implying that Pharaoh caused others to draw near rather than himself. The Midrash relates that this is because when Pharaoh pursued the fleeing Jews, it caused them to become closer to G-d. In fact, the entire exile in Egypt and the splitting of the Red Sea was only in preparation for the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai - the ultimate expression of closeness and attachment.
(Sefer HaMaamarim Shin-Tav)
I will sing unto the L-rd, for He is most exalted (ga'o ga'a) (Ex. 15:1)
The word for exalted is repeated, indicating a double measure of pride and nobility. The ancient Egyptians were a proud people, as it states (Isaiah 30:7): "Thus I have called...Egypt...they are boastfulness." Similarly, the horse is an arrogant creature, as the Talmud relates (Pesachim 113): "Six things are said about the horse: it loves war...and its spirit is haughty." An Egyptian riding upon a horse was arrogance upon arrogance; thus "the horse and his rider He has thrown into the sea."
(Chidushei Agadot Maharsha)
And Pharaoh will say..."they are confused in the land, the wilderness has shut them in" (Ex. 14:3)
Chasidism emphasizes the importance of prayer with proper intentions, a state of mind attained by freeing oneself from the fetters of worldly existence and immersing oneself in the holy words of the prayer book. When a person gets stuck on the physical plane ("they are confused in the land"), he is likely to find himself "shut in the wilderness" - that the gates of heaven are closed to his prayers. In Hebrew, the letters of the word "midbar" (wilderness), are the same as the word "medaber"(speaker), i.e., the gates of prayer are shut to a person who is distracted by his corporeality.
It was a perfectly beautiful Shabbat day. The Jew strolled at leisure through the orchards and fields. The trees were heavy with their fragrant bounty. The bees swarmed about the blossoming flowers; each leaf glowed its own shade of green in the light. "How wonderful was the world which the Creator bestowed upon his creations," thought the man.
Then he reached the boundaries of his own vineyard. "What's that?" he thought, as he noticed a hole in the fence. "Why, how could I have failed to notice it before? I better come around early tomorrow morning and fix it before wild animals or thieves have a chance to go in and eat up the grapes. As it is, I have barely enough to support my family."
Then he suddenly stopped in his tracks and caught his breath. "Today is Shabbat," he thought, "and I have just been thinking and planning my mundane affairs on this sanctified day." The Jew, who was a pious man, was shocked that he had just transgressed the sanctity of the day by actually planning to perform work which was forbidden on the holy Shabbat. He turned his thoughts away from the fence and returned to his home and the joyous Shabbat meal that awaited him.
When Shabbat had come to an end the Jew remembered his vineyard and the broken fence, and he felt a great sorrow at having profaned his holy Shabbat with thoughts of repairing the fence. He decided that to atone for his sinful thought, he would never fix the fence.
The summer passed, and the harvest approached. The vineyard was redolent with the fragrance of ripe grapes. The man went out to his vineyard to gather in his harvest thinking, "There probably aren't many grapes left. I'm sure the foxes and rabbits must have passed through the hole and eaten them all." But when he entered the vineyard he couldn't believe his eyes. The grapes hung in gigantic clusters throughout the vineyard, and the smell of the ripe grapes was overpowering. Every grape was perfect, and there was no sign of any having been touched.
The man began to look for the hole in the fence. The damage had been quite extensive, and so he was sure to find it with little searching. And so he did, but in the place where there had been a gaping hole, there was none. Instead, completely covering the hole, there was a fully-grown caper bush. The Master of the Universe had caused it to sprout there, to cover up the opening with its bushy branches.
The caper bush had not only saved the grape crop from certain destruction, but it possessed a great value in itself. Every part of the plant could be sold at great profit. The caper buds were preserved in vinegar and savored as a tasty delicacy; the twigs and leaves were enjoyed as well.
The pious Jew benefitted from the wondrous bush for the rest of his life, earning from it a good livelihood to support his wife and children. He enjoyed the bountiful harvest from it every year and it was a reminder of the great holiness of the Shabbat and the miracle of G-d's creation.
In the Holy Land, when the Romans ruled, Rabbi Yonatan was a judge in his city. He was known to everyone as a fair and honest man. The court convened in his home which was situated next door to that of a Roman. Just as the two houses were adjacent, so were their fields. In Rabbi Yonatan's field a majestic tree whose branches overspread the field of the Roman grew, but the Roman didn't mind, for he loved to sit under its welcome shade.
This Roman enjoyed disparaging the Jews, and he decided that it might be entertaining to listen to some of the cases brought to Rabbi Yonatan. One day two Jews came to the court arguing about a tree belonging to one of them. The second Jew complained that the shade it created interfered with his crops. The first man cried, "For twenty years the tree never bothered you!"
The second replied, "That is true, but now it has become so large that it damages my crops." Rabbi Yonatan listened and then instructed the men to return the following day for the verdict.
The Roman thought, "I bet the rabbi postponed his decision because I was here. He was probably afraid that I would demand that he cut down his tree. I'll show him. I will embarrass him in front of the whole court."
Rabbi Yonatan called a carpenter and instructed him to go at once and cut down all the branches of his tree which hung over his neighbor's field. When the verdict was read next morning, the Roman was there. "You must cut down the branches which hang over your neighbor's field, since they are disturbing him," ordered Rabbi Yonatan.
The Roman leapt up and yelled, "Why, then, don't you cut down your tree which is leaning over my property?"
"Go to the field and look at my tree. You will see exactly what this man must do to his tree."
The Roman went, and to his surprise the tree no longer hung over his field. He saw that Rabbi Yonatan made sure that he would not transgress a ruling which he laid on another person. From that time on the Roman had the greatest respect for Rabbi Yonatan and Jewish Law.
Our prophets use the metaphor of trees to describe the Jewish people in their ultimate state of fulfillment, the Era of the Redemption: (Isaiah 27:6) "In days to come, Yaakov will take root; Yisrael will blossom and bud, and will cover the face of the earth with fruit." Isaiah (11:1) also describes the coming of Mashiach similarly: "A shoot shall emerge from the stem of Yishai, and a branch shall grow out from his roots." May these prophecies be fulfilled in the immediate future.
(Timeless Patterns in Time)