One very lively and ongoing inspiration for this weblog is David Crumm's richly diverse interfaith web site, ReadTheSpirit, in which he explores religion-based writing of all kinds, in print and on the web. If you want to know what's happening now in religious writing, learn about some intriguing books, and meet their authors, I highly recommend that you visit ReadTheSpirit.
In his January 7 post, David mentions my last entry "Starting Fresh," in which I used the turning of the calendar to play with the notion of trying to "live better, do better, be better"—as if the ideal of perfection were a useful goal.
Then, at Ohr HaTorah on Shabbat morning, Rabbi Mordecai Finley turned my head around with a quote from Voltaire: "The perfect is the enemy of the good." Why is it, the rabbi pondered, that otherwise good, fair, intelligent people often become so frustrated and irrationally angry with those closest to them? The answer, he suggested, is that our own unconscious imperfections are so intolerable to ourselves that we assign our spouses, partners, or children the job of being perfect instead, as if they could "complete" us. When they don't live up to that impossible demand, we often become enraged—a reaction, whether voiced or not, that is clearly the enemy of the good.
So, for example, if I struggle against all odds to clean up after myself while cooking dinner, my blood may start to boil if my boyfriend leaves onion skins, ginger peels, and plastic bags strewn across the countertop. Since I always feel so close to the brink of chaos myself, I might flip out if I see him bounding over the edge.
The solution to this moral dilemma is clearly to get a little clarity on the situation. How about turning up the lights—bringing my own unfulfilled expectations into the open and showing us both a little compassion? He is doing some of the cooking, after all! And we can clean up together, too.
Taking this to a higher level, a classic story is told in Lurianic Kabbalah about the creation of the world. According to this original "big bang" theory, God first contracted, or withdrew from the divine self, to make room for creation to take place. God then poured all the light of the universe into special vessels. But the light was too intense for the vessels, and they shattered, scattering countless sparks through the universe. As a result, each of us contains a spark of that divine light, and it is our job to release those sparks and reunite them with the divine source.
At its core, tikkun olam, or repair of the world, begins with recognizing that the spark of life that burns within each one of us has its origins in divine brokenness—an imperfection that only goodness can fix.
What are you willing to do today, this week, this year to be more compassionate and good to yourself, to cut yourself a little slack? I'd love to know! And maybe, if you'll share your ideas of self-acceptance, you'll be helping us all to be a little kinder to one another as well. Now wouldn't that be a perfect miracle?