From the Rabbi - October 2011 Print
Dear Friends:

In the middle of the nineteenth century, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a short story entitled “The Birthmark.”  This tale recounted the story of a scholarly man who married a woman whose only evident imperfection was a birthmark on one cheek.  She perceived the mark as part of what made her who she was and, in fact, an element of her beauty.  He, on the other hand, thought of it as a defacement that detracted from her.  Finally, he persuaded her to have the birthmark removed through a difficult medical procedure.

When the birthmark was no longer there, the woman felt that she had lost her identity.  She began to wither and eventually died.  In his quest to make her perfect, her husband had lost the one person that he cared about and ended up with nothing.

The quest for perfection finds little sympathy in the Jewish tradition.  The Bible teaches us that everything God made was “very good.”  But “very good” is not “perfect;” in fact, it is considerably short of perfection.  To be “very good” is hard enough; it’s a goal that is worthy of our most serious efforts and striving.  To attempt to exceed “very good” and to become “perfect” is the ultimate of hubris; it is an attempt to go beyond what God designated as the fundamental character of being a human being.  Are we prepared to say that we know better than God what it means to be a person?

The High Holydays offer us the opportunity to evaluate our lives, not in relationship to perfection, but in comparison to the standard of “very good.”  That’s hard enough, and we inevitably fall short of even that mark.  We freely and openly admit that being human means that we shall make mistakes; “to err is human,” the poet said, and we do not disagree that this is the case.

Our shortcomings and sins are sometimes unintentional and sometimes deliberate.  Whichever is the case, we come into the congregation determined to change, convinced that during the coming year we can approach nearer to the ideal of “very good” without holding out before ourselves the ultimately frustrating standard of perfection.

It would be wonderful if, a year from now, each of us could return to the Sanctuary and stand upright before the Judge of Truth to affirm: “God, my life is closer to your ideal of ‘very good’.”

Phyllis and I wish all of you a very happy, healthy and satisfying New Year.

                                Kenneth D. Roseman