6 Tishrei 5781 / Thursday, September 24, 2020 | Torah Reading: Ha'azinu
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Imperfect, but Perfect    

Imperfect, but Perfect

Parshat Ekev: good and bad in this world are only backdrops. It is left up to us to decide if life's scenarios will bring us closer to or farther from Hashem...


Quiz time! Is this world a perfect place?
I'm not sure of your answer but my guess is most of you said "no". For those of you who said "yes" I give you a lot of credit for your positive attitude. I would like to give my own politically correct answer to the question - "yes and no". As far as I'm concerned, everyone got 100% on this test. However, besides my wanting everyone to feel good, is it really possible to suggest that both answers are correct? The response to that is that it's all a matter of perspective.
There are approximately seven billion people on this planet. Some are rich, some are poor, some are old, and others young. The list of differences goes on and on. If you were to ask all those people if they have just what they need and are 100% satisfied with their lot, I wonder how many would say yes. Now, with the understanding and faith that our loving Creator can do anything and everything, wouldn't you think that someone would have hit the jackpot? At the very least, by the law of averages someone out there should have gotten just what he or she needs? Did Hashem get it wrong seven billion times?
In this week's Torah Reading we are told of the benefits of performing Hashem's commandments: "And it will be if you listen well to my commandments....and I will give rain to your land, the early and late rains, and you will gather your grain, your oil, and your wine." A few verses later we are told: "Be careful that your hearts don't go astray and you serve foreign gods and bow down to them. Then Hashem's anger will burn against you and He will hold back the rains from the heavens...." Simply understood, we are being taught about reward and punishment in this world. If we're good, there will be an abundance of blessing and if not, Heaven forbid, the opposite.
What is problematic with this explanation is that it contradicts the Talmudic teaching that there is no reward for performing commandments in this world. Reward and punishment are meted out after we pass away and move on to the next world. If so, how do we understand the verses quoted above? The classic answer is that the Torah is not promising us reward and punishment in this world. What we are being told is that if we fulfill Hashem's commandments we will be blessed with an environment conducive to coming closer to Hashem. If we don't do what is expected of us, then our world will become a hostile place, not as a punishment but with the intentions of sending us a wake-up call. According to this approach, good and bad in this world are only backdrops. It is left up to us to decide if life's scenarios will bring us closer to or farther from Hashem.
However, consider the following problem. Out of the seven billion people on this planet everyone is challenged with their unique difficulties. There are many people blessed with much good but everyone seems to have to contend with some level of frustration, pain, or suffering. Assuming that different situations in our lives are the stage for our actualizing our potential and developing our unique connection with Hashem, what is gained by the hardships and challenges of every single one of us? Wouldn't a tranquil surrounding be the most conducive for growth? Isn't the Fiddler of the Roof's request to be a rich man reasonable? Hashem obviously wants the best environment for us to develop and grow. I think this is the challenging point for many of us. We're not asking for a shangri-la, but couldn't life be a touch calmer and produce the same benefits?
There's a famous phrase: "There's no atheists in a foxhole." If you were Hashem, where would you put people? We all have our "foxholes", those places and situations where we feel the bombardment from all around and nowhere to run. From these places we call out from our hearts and souls. The honesty and depth of expression is not usually matched by a tranquil scene. We all know that when the guns go silent, there is a sense of reprieve and even thankfulness but, unfortunately, it is short lived. How many of us have left a hospital, funeral, or scene of an accident with a new resolve to change only to quickly lose that resolve and the inspiration? 
Getting back to the question we started with. Is the world perfect? It depends. Do we want to just "chill"? If so, the world seems far from perfect. Do we want to reach out and touch the infinite? If so, we can realize that the world has endless opportunities and presents a perfect environment for these goals. With a correct perspective we can realize that Hashem made a perfectly imperfect world. Rebbe Dov Ber of Mezritch explained this idea using the words of our morning prayers. We praise Hashem with the words "the whole word is your acquisition". Based on a subtlety of the Hebrew wording, Rebbe Dov Ber explained as follows:"the whole world is a way to 'acquire' you". Every ache and pain can be a cause for annoyance and frustration and reflects the imperfection of this world. But those same aches and pains can be windows of opportunities, thus the second possible answer-that the world is, in fact, perfect. It's a perfect opportunity to create a relationship with the source of all blessing and good.
If we perform Hashem's commandments with an eye on learning the lessons He wants to teach us, then He will provide a more tranquil environment to help us realize ourselves, as individuals and communities. And through this perspective, all of lifes' big and little imperfections can lead us to the Source of all Perfection, Hashem HImself.

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