Life – and the people in it – are not perfect. They're not supposed to be.
I just recorded a children’s CD with my friend and colleague Linda. While the sound engineer was doing the mix, I was grimacing at the mistakes. He shook his head and said wisely, “The whole beauty of art is that it’s not perfect.”
Real life is not perfect, nor is it meant to be. The flaws are part of their beauty.
There is a popular inspirational email called Crackpots. It tells the story of a water pail that had a crack; it felt inferior because it was always leaking water. Then it was pointed out that it’s been watering the earth and helping flowers grow along the path.
Nowadays there’s a lot of stress on perfection. We seek the perfect job, the perfect mate, the perfect look. Advertising is geared toward making us feel imperfect (unless we use their product!) and there are books and seminars to improve every aspect of our personal and professional lives. The message: flaws are undesirable.
I once worked for a plastic surgeon. He had a book of photos of celebrities which showed what they would look like if their faces were in perfect symmetry (people’s faces generally aren’t). These celebrities weren’t nearly as interesting or beautiful. The whole nature of their character and individuality lied in the flaws in their features.
Sefirat HaOmer, the weeks between Passover and Shavuot, is observed as a time of mourning for the students of Rabbi Akiva who died in a plague. During this time, 24,000 Torah scholars died because they didn’t show each other sufficient honor.
Why do people not honor each other? Why do we gossip, criticize, even condemn others? Because in our eyes, they are not perfect. They – their faces, their bodies, even their personalities – are flawed. They are, in short, human.
And so are we. Although we are put on this earth to perfect it and ourselves, perfection isn’t a prerequisite to perfecting. Nor is it necessarily defined as “having no flaws.” It means using our flaws for the good. Using our anger, for example, not to yell at our friends and families, but rather to fight injustice. It means smiling with warmth – even without perfectly straight, white teeth. It means singing from the heart, if perhaps not always perfectly on key. It means being the unique person you are, and loving others for the unique person they are – warts and all.
Rabbi Akiva is known for the credo “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Actually that’s not an exact translation. The Hebrew word ray’ah is more correctly translated as “friend.” Interestingly, it has the same letters as rah (bad). Whether we perceive someone as bad or as our friend depends on where we put the stress.
When the Jewish nation received the Torah on Shavuot, they stood united – one soul, one heart, one spirit. Three million people, 12 tribes, young and old, men and women, with one purpose: to receive the Torah.
Rabbi Akiva taught that the primary purpose of Torah is to teach us to serve God by loving one another unconditionally.
I noticed one other thing when we were doing the mix. In the parts where Linda sang with me in harmony, I was more on pitch. We all have our weaknesses. But when we sing together – harmonizing our individual melodies, with all their varied colors and imperfections, nuances and timbres – we produce a song that is truly beautiful, heartfelt, and divinely flawless.