Truths You Can Use

Truths You Can Use


Perfect is the Enemy of the Good: A Jewish Holiday Lesson


A friend once taught me a powerful saying: “The Perfect is the enemy of the good.” This pithy piece of wisdoms speaks to those of us who worry about everything. When everything has to be perfect, we dwell on each detail and never get anything done.

In preparing of the upcoming Jewish holiday of Sukkot, I realized this saying also contains a deeper pearl of wisdom. Sukkot is a holiday in which we build a temporary outdoor dwelling place called a succah, and eat and celebrate and welcome guests into it for seven days. Jewish tradition has and extensive set of instructions detailing the way in which a succah is to be constructed.

Yet, the laws for building a succah have an unusual caveat. An imperfect succah is still a “kosher” succah. Even if the walls are not the right length, or the door is not in the proper place, we can still use the succah in the same way we would use a perfectly constructed succah. (Personally, I am grateful for this exception, because my handyman and building construction skills leave much to be desired!)

Peace Needs Flexibility

This kind of exception is rare in Jewish law. Usually, an item used in Jewish ritual needs to be perfect. A Torah scroll, for example, is meticulously written and rewritten until every letter precisely formed. The number of tassels on a Jewish prayer shawl is non-negotiable. A sukkah, however, even without any of the necessary decorations, can still be used for ritual purposes.

This flexibility is the reason the Jewish sages consistently refer to the “Sukkat Shalom, the Dwelling Place of Peace.” Peace demands flexibility. Is any relationship always perfect for both partners? Is any business deal absolutely perfect for both parties?

Perfection is not only the enemy of the good. If we insist on perfection, we will always focus on what’s wrong rather than what’s right. As Rabbi Avraham Kook, one of the great mystics of the twentieth century put it, “peace can never exist when we insist on perfection.”



Previous Posts

God Never Gives Up Hope: A Prayer for Israel
 I remember my first visit to Israel in 1994. The Oslo Accords had just been signed. Hope reigned. My group was greeted warmly in the Arab market in Jerusalem. The opposite feelings prevail today. We witness bombings, indiscriminate hatred, vitriol. Dozens of my friends who are there now share w

posted 10:19:40pm Jul. 13, 2014 | read full post »

The Secret to Happiness? Let Life Surprise You
I remember sitting one day with my  three-year-old daughter. She had a book in her and was turning the pages and telling the story. This was her regular habit. She could not yet read the words, but she could tell the story based on the pictures. I had one ear listening to her voice and the ot

posted 4:23:22pm Jul. 09, 2014 | read full post »

Do Christians Need to Learn More About Judaism? A Rabbi Responds to the Pope
In the 1970s Alex Haley wrote the best-seller Roots. He sought to find the roots of his life as an African-American. Where did he come from? What experiences shaped who he was?   We all ask these questions. We seek not only geographic roots and ethnic roots. We look for spiritual roots. Where

posted 9:50:26pm Jul. 06, 2014 | read full post »

Why Do Jews Care So Much About Israel?
Last year I attended the Irish Fest in my hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The music and ambience make it one of most unforgettable days of the year. Listening to a concert, I struck up a conversation with someone standing next to me. I told him I was a rabbi, and once we got past the usual

posted 1:40:08pm Jun. 22, 2014 | read full post »

In the Wake of the Kansas City Horror: The Life-Saving Power of Interfaith Conversation
This post was written with my friend and colleague, Reverend Lillian Daniel.  The late great Abraham Joshua Heschel was once asked why he devoted so much time to interfaith dialogue. He answering by recounting part of his family history. “When the Nazis came for my parents,” he wrote,

posted 1:56:25pm Apr. 16, 2014 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.