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Friday, 28 October, 2016 - 2:19 pm


A Jewish man in a hospital tells the doctor he wants to be transferred to a different hospital.

The doctor asks, "What's wrong? Is it the food?"

"No, the food is fine. I can't kvetch (complain)."

"Is it the room?"

"No, the room is fine. I can't kvetch."

"Is it the staff?"

"No, everyone on the staff is fine. I can't kvetch."

"Then why do you want to be transferred?"

"Over there I can kvetch!"

The weekly portion this Shabbat, Parshat Bereishit, is the beginning of the entire Torah. The opening verse, Genesis 1:1, reads: In the beginning, Elokim (G-d) created the heavens and the earth.

At first, only the name Elokim is used, but just a few lines into chapter two, G-d is suddenly referred to by his ineffable four letter name. Now He is Hashem Elokim!”

Our Sages explain that two different energies were employed in Creation. G-d originally intended to create the universe with His strict sense of justice (Elokim). In the end, however, He created it with a more compromising sense of compassion—Hashem.

Why did G-d start out with one plan, only to abandon it?

What is more, why would G-d have to change his mind? I change my mind when I realize that I have misjudged a situation, but why is the infinite Creator changing His mind? Are we to think that G-d also makes mistakes, that He planned one thing, but when He realized it wouldn’t work, He chose a different path?

When the Torah says that Elokim created Heaven and Earth, the Sages explain that to mean that it was G-d’s plan to create the world that way, not that He did not do so in actuality. What they meant was that G-d, by planning to create the world with the attribute of ideal and perfect justice, actually created our condition to follow the same pattern: We, too, plan to create perfect and ideal realities.

Who among us does not have to deal with the dissonance between our dreams and our realities, between our plans and their execution?

Almost everyone entertains images of perfection, but reality almost never lives up to it. That’s the funny thing about dreams: they aren’t real. There is no such thing as a perfect person, spouse, teacher, or contractor, business, or bar mitzvah. You are not perfect, nor are your employees, partners, programmers, or investors.

We know this to be the case, but we still get frustrated. Despite past experience, despite our cynical understanding of the ways of the world, we continue to position ourselves in the way of inevitable disappointment.

If all we care about is perfection, and living a dream life, then the second we don’t meet that expectation, we may as well throw it all out the window. Never mind that no one is perfect, or that marriages take hard work, or that even the most beautiful beaches have that annoying sand that gets stuck in your shoes. It has to be just right!

Where does this attitude come from?

The Sefat Emet explains that when G-d planned the world to be perfect, He created a world in which we too plan perfection. Our tendency for this is a vestige of the earliest stirrings of Creation. We mirror G-d. We start every project with an ideal vision of our goal, because that is what G-d did. His plan for the world was of an ideal universe, and man, created in His image, nurtures the same sentiments: Our plan of any goal is infused by a desire for perfection.

Silverberg consults a world-famous specialist about his medical issues. Afterwards, he inquires about the cost.

"My fee is $20,000," replies the physician.

"But that's impossible!?"  "OK," the doctor replies,

"I suppose I could adjust my fee to $15,000, just for you."

"$15,000 for one visit!? Absurd!" 

"Alright, then, can you afford $10,000?" 

"Who even has that kind of money?"

"Look," says the doctor, becoming quite irritated,

"Just give me $5,000 and get out of here."

"I can afford $200," says Silverberg. "Take it or leave it!" 

"I don't understand," says the doctor. "Why did you shlep all the way to the most expensive doctor in the whole US?" 

"Listen, doctor," Silverberg tries to explain, "When it comes to my health, nothing is too expensive!"

Why did G-d have to start off with the standard of ideal perfection? Why start with posturing rigid idealism if you’re bound to compromise anyway?

Because the story of Creation offers us a full example of how we are to live our lives. To live, one first needs to dream. Our dreams should be big and our aspirations grand. At least at first, we aim for the loftiest standards—to be and to do the best that we can.

Then, we must have the maturity to understand that in reality, perfection doesn’t always play out so well. As we proceed and accomplish goals we have set for ourselves, the good that we do must be recognized and celebrated for what it is, not undermined for what it is not.

Yet, all the while, the initial vision must be kept alive. That the vision has not become anything more is no cause for despair. Perhaps it is only ever destined to remain such: The image of perfection. Even if it is only at the back of our minds, it inspires us to push to greater heights; to not be totally satisfied with mediocrity, or be complacent.

I think of the Rebbe. His visions were grand: Change the world. Reach every Jew. Reach every human being. Don’t stop. Bring Moshiach! If he had waited for perfection, where would we be today?

He never stopped teaching that we can do more. Life is the eternal tension between what can be and what is; between G-d’s initial thought and His actual creation.

In a way, this Shabbat, when we read the story of Creation, is when the year starts in earnest. After the holidays, as we make our resolutions for a new and awesome year, we ought to recall both these names of G-d: Our visions must be as grand as can be. Do not settle for small things, but do not get frustrated with setbacks and imperfections. Embrace each movement, as imperfect as it may be, and move on! 

It’s like the Jewish optimist who is sitting with the Jewish pessimist. The pessimist sighs, half to himself, and half to his optimistic friend.

“Oy,” he says, “things couldn’t be any worse.”

“Sure they could!” says the optimist.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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