Monday, September 1, 2014


Recently I learned that Perfection Valley is a fictional place in Nevada where the ex-silver mining town of Perfection was located. It served as the primary setting for the 1990 film called Tremors. It does not exist—just as perfection itself. Hebrew does not have a good word for perfection. The closest one, shlemut, means “wholeness.”

I have reached a point in my life where I no longer expect or seek perfection in anything or anyone. Salvador Dali, the famous Spanish/Catalan painter once said: “Have no fear of perfection; you’ll never reach it.” Human beings, being fallible, make mistakes, either small or big, and need to learn how to deal with their consequences. I only try to do better, and hope that my errors are rather benign or correctible. 

Everything we do and have in life ends up being short of the ideal. Examples:

1. There is no perfect joy. It is always tinged with some shade of darkness. During the Jewish wedding ceremony, it is customary to break a glass. Rabbinic sources provide various interpretations for this act. According to one, this is a reminder that even at the height of our happiness we need to remember the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 586 BCE and then in 70 CE. For me, it means that the bride and groom must acknowledge that they will experience moments of joy as well as times of sorrow in their lives. However, the love they have for each other will enable them to meet the future challenges together with optimism and hopefully with success. 

2. There is no perfect friend or spouse. What we need in life is not a perfect partner, but a good one; one who has a kind heart and an empathetic soul. One cannot live with someone who claims to be beyond reproach. This would drive you crazy, because you would always feel that you cannot meet that person’s expectations. And that is not a good recipe for friendship. Better accept each other for who you are, and complement each other lovingly.

3. There is no perfect job. I don’t know of anyone who is totally happy with his/her work. Every profession has its highs and lows. We frequently overlook the difficulties in our work because we derive so many other benefits by doing what we love best. 

The realization that there is no such a thing as perfection does not mean that we should lower our standards. That is simple laziness and would represent a personal let down. We should acknowledge our limitations, do our best, and make the necessary corrections as we go along.  And if we do that for ourselves, shouldn’t we also tolerate and, at times, even overlook other people’s imperfections? 

According to a rabbinic text, everything that was created at the beginning of time needs “fixing,” such as, “The mustard seed needs to be sweetened, the wheat needs to be ground, the lupine needs to be soaked and man needs to be repaired (tzarikh tikun, i.e. circumcised) (Gen. R. 11: 6). The Hebrew Bible tells us that only God’s deeds are perfect (tamim in Hebrew, meaning, wholesome, pure, complete, perfect; cf. Deut. 32: 4; Ps. 18: 30; 19: 8), whereas human beings are limited creatures who can and should improve themselves. That’s all we need to do.
Rifat Sonsino 
Sept. 1, 2014