I recently heard a drasha about a post on social media that was meant to show the dedication of a certain rabbi/teacher to his teaching. This teacher was so dedicated to his class and teaching Torah that he didn’t even pay attention when his wife came and told him that they had a new grandchild. I’m not the only one who feels that this level of dedication is actually not a good thing. It’s not something that most of us can hope to emulate. Why? Because we’re only human.
Yes, we’re supposed to strive for holiness and to do better. But striving for perfection is a lost cause. Again, we’re only human. If Hashem wanted perfection, He would’ve been fine with His Angels. Angels cannot grow and become holy. Only humans can and that’s precisely because we’re not perfect. This is why we need role models whose humanity isn’t put aside for a holy ideal. We learn not only from their good deeds but from their very human thoughts, feelings, and even mistakes.
The mistake of striving for perfection is the excuse used for erasing women. The men want to avoid impure thoughts and so they need to avoid anything that might provoke them. There was someone who was defending the concept and he asked me “but what if the men just want to think pure thoughts?” My answer is twofold. First, if they really want that, then it’s THEIR responsibility and not the responsibility of women. Second, that kind of perfection is something that no human being can achieve no matter how great a tzadik he becomes.
In the book Jewish Wisdom, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin wrote that someone once asked the Baal Shem Tov how to tell a true religious leader from a false one. His answer was “Ask him if he knows a way to prevent impure thoughts. If he says he does, then he’s false.”
We’re supposed to be striving to do better and become better people and grow closer to Hashem. That is doable for human beings. We do not become better people by denying our humanity.
It’s not abnormal for a man to see a woman and find her attractive and to even get a lustful thought or two. It’s totally human. His challenge is to see her as a real human being and not just as a body and that’s the “better” for which he’s supposed to be striving. In order to get to that “better” point, he has to see her. Denying his very human perceptions and thoughts will NOT get him anywhere. Yes, she’s supposed to dress and groom in a way that reflects her personality and her inner beauty. But so is he. And he’s definitely not supposed to see her as an object of any kind. Which means that we women need to be visible. If we’re not visible, it allows men to see us as objects and that’s WORSE, not better.
It’s time for all of us to accept our humanity and strive to be better humans.