Someone once said: “Perfectionism is internalized oppression!” How true. Perfectionism can be a horrific form of self-abuse, and there are those who truly beat themselves up over their inadequacies and deficiencies. I think most people would agree that this form of self-imposed tyranny does not serve us well.
In fact, our greatest accomplishments are often born from our most embarrassing stumbles, and humanities grandest achievements are products of earlier failures. Of course, one should do their best to strive for excellence in all areas of life, however, most would admit that it is better to do something imperfectly than not at all.
It is this fundamental thought that we find in the Torah reading of Eikev, where Moshe prepares the nation to cross the Jordon and forewarns them about the challenges that they are destined to face.
“Shema Yisrael” “Hear, O Israel! You are about to cross the Jordan to go in and dispossess nations greater and more populous than you”.
Again in the portion of Shoftim, when the Jews were at war, it was the duty of the priest to address the people with an uplifting and positive message. He would open by saying: “Shema Yisrael” “Hear, 0 Israel, you come this day to do battle against your enemies. Let not your heart be faint, fear not, and be not downcast”.
Our sages saw in the familiar words “Shema Yisrael” “Hear, O Israel,” a subtle yet powerful message. This is meant to say that even if the only Mitzvah they performed was reciting the Shema, it was sufficient merit to grant them success and protect them from their enemies.
I believe that this teaches us a most powerful lesson. G-d says: I will protect you and be there for you, not because you are the most perfect Jew, but because you said the Shema. All you have done is one mitzvah and that is enough to warrant G-d’s Divine Protection.
Most of the world would absolutely not associate the year 2020 with the word “perfection”. On the contrary, this year has seen so many dreams deferred, so many plans suspended, and so much momentum lost. This year, perhaps more than most, it is important to remember to celebrate the small wins. Time spent with loved ones, a new skill learned, a focused prayer session in the quietness of our home, these can be the stepping stones to inspire and enrich our minds, hearts and souls.
One should never forget that the man who successfully removes a mountain, begins by carrying away the small stones.
Let this fundamental Jewish approach inspire every area of your life. For life is never black and white, and Jewish life should never be oppressive.