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Thought for the Day: Perfection Is In The Process, Not In The Achievement

We had one of those dreary "help people get along better in the work place" workshops.  This one, however, had 90 seconds of insight, so I am glad I went.  The speaker noted that how you say things can overwhelm the message you are trying to convey, so one needs to take care.  His example was the difference between telling your wife, "Honey, you have a timeless beauty." vs. "You have a face that could stop a clock."

In Torah (and, truth be known, in science... which is where I got my training for learning), though, one must be absolutely precise in both saying and listening.  I have often heard the G"ra misquoted as saying that there is not an extra word in the first eight chapters of M'silas Yesharim.  That leads to the mistaken conclusion that after the first eight chapters, things start to get sloppy; chas v'shalom.  The precise statement is that the G"ra made an intense investigation of every word in the first eight chapters and found that not one was extra.  That, it seems to me, is sufficient evidence that one should take every word of the entire M'silas Yesharim very seriously.

In the introduction, the Ramchal makes a startling assertion:
[...] every man of wisdom recognizes the need for perfection of Divine service and the necessity for its purity (tahara) and cleanliness (n'kiyus), without which it [his service] is not only completely unacceptable, but even repulsive and abhorrent
Well, now... that's not so friendly.  It seems to say that most of us would be better off not doing anything, since our avodas HaShem is certainly neither tahor nor even naki.  Moreover, the Ramchal will tell us that one must approach avodas HaShem as outlined by these steps, in order: watchfulness, zeal, cleanliness, separating from unnecessary pleasures, purity, saintliness, humility, fear of sin, and finally one can than approach holiness.  Purity is the fifth level, cleanliness the third; and cleanliness takes a long time to fully acquire before one can even think of proceeding.  Moreover, the Ramchal says that every Jew is expected to get to the level of cleanliness, from there up are levels only achieved by the most scrupulously pious.  Are we to understand that avoda of most Jews is doomed to remain "repulsive and abhorrent"?!

In fact, this is precisely the mistake made by those who abandon the Torah (xtianity, reform judaism, and the like).  And the mistake comes from not reading the next few words:
What will we answer in the day of reproof if we weaken in this study and forsake that which is so incumbent upon us as to be the very essence of what the Lord our God asks of us?
Emphasis mine, of course.  Our service is only "repulsive and abhorrent" if we weaken in our efforts to improve.  Of course our service is not what it should be.  As explained in Da'as T'vunos the entire purpose of being in this world is for nothing but self improvement with a target of nothing less than perfection.  Of course we'll never reach that target, but that must be our mission statement.  The only failure is complacency.


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