Friday, Sep 24, 2021

Perfect Paralysis

A fellow – we'll call him Aharon – once knew of a nice boy in yeshivah who he felt would make a good shidduch for a girl known to his wife. Aharon's wife happened to be acquainted with a relative of that particular boy, so she called her without delay to redd the shidduch. Upon hearing the idea, the relative asked the wife what the father of the girl does. The wife answered that the father is a successful maggid shiur.

“I’m afraid they’re not going to be interested in the shidduch,” the boy’s relative informed the would-be shadchan. “The boy only wants a rosh yeshivah’s daughter. Though, if the girl is really as good as you say she is, maybe I can use some ‘pull’ over there and get them to consider it.”

 

After hearing about the situation from his wife, Aharon told her — quite wisely, some may say — to tell the relative, “Thanks, but no thanks. It’s okay. Don’t bother.” His reasoning was that the girl was worth far more than to be redd to someone who wouldn’t even appreciate her qualities, but would rather think he “settled” for her since she was not a rosh yeshivah’s daughter.

 

A while later and with much siyata diShmaya, the girl eventually got engaged to a phenomenal talmid chochom and baal middos who married her for who she is, not for what her father does. Aharon was curious, though, as to what happened to the boy he had originally redd to that girl. Did he get what he sought in the end? The boy had moved to a different bais medrash and Aharon had lost contact with him.

 

It came as somewhat of a shock, then, when a few years later, Aharon met the boy and learned that he had just recently gotten married. Who was the other side? Needless to say, not only wasn’t the girl’s father a rosh yeshivah, but he wasn’t even the most ehrliche person, and the home the girl grew up in was not exactly the most in tune with a true Torahdike environment.

 

Though Aharon didn’t say a word, he couldn’t help but marvel at how this boy may have easily sent away countless daughters of maggidei shiur, of working bnei Torah, and of upright baalei batim, all in his insistence that he wanted nothing less than the daughter of a rosh yeshivah. Having not gotten what he wanted and being older and not as in demand any longer, the boy had now ended up marrying into a family quite far from what was being redd to him for years.

 

At least he woke up when he did, Aharon mused.

 

Many of us have witnessed similar situations over the years of boys who insist they want nothing less than to marry this negative dress size or that positive bank account. We feel hopelessly frustrated as the boy (or his parents) turns down one great girl after another as he holds out for the “jackpot.” Then, after quite a wait, when the boy finally gets engaged and we learn to whom, we wonder, “This was what he held out for? Oh my…”

 

As a wise person once put it, “Very few high-priced items actually sell at their full retail value. The rest end up, sooner or later, on the clearance rack.”

 

We find the same insistence on perfection holding people up from taking prudent financial steps. A fellow may have a basement to rent out, and he knows of people who have gotten $1,200 a month for similar basement apartments. Though many people look at his basement and offer $1,000 a month for it, he decides to hold out, not willing to give in and lose out on what he might get if he waits. He thus waits and waits — even turning down an offer for $1,100 a month — and the days thus pass while his basement remains unrented.

 

Now, supposing that after having no rental for two months he eventually does find someone willing to pay $1,200 a month for it, how much has he gained? He lost $2,200 for the two months his apartment could have been rented for $1,100 a month. It will take him 20 months — over a year and a half — to make back that money with his current $1,200 a month rental income. The entire contract is only for two years. Was it smart to now lose $2,000, which he will only make up after 20 months? What if he doesn’t even find anyone willing to pay $1,200 after two months of waiting?

 

While of course a wise investor seeks to earn and not lose, giving up a decent gain while waiting to earn big bucks instead is often foolhardy. Too often, the ones who lose are us.

 

SPIRITUAL PARALYSIS

 

All of the above may be worth noting for its own value, but the lesson actually reaches a lot farther.

 

In his introduction to Sefer Chovos Halevavos, the author, Rabbeinu Bachya zt”l, writes of a fascinating internal debate he had about writing the sefer in the first place. Although he recognized the value of the wisdom he wished to impart, he worried that he would surely fall short of producing a “perfect treatise.” “I surely do not have the ability to perfectly analyze and instruct regarding every last root cause and each possible resultant effect in every last category regarding that which lies in man’s heart and his thoughts,” writes the author. “I was afraid that I was taking upon myself a task beyond my capabilities and decided therefore to abandon the idea of authoring this work.”

 

After making that decision, though, Rabbeinu Bachya worried that perhaps this fear of falling short was not a righteous fear, but rather the work of his yeitzer hara. “If every person who sought to do a good deed or instruct others as to the proper path would stop and wait to do so until he knew he was capable of carrying that out with absolute perfection,” he writes, “then no one would teach or instruct once prophecy (which is the perfect Word of G-d) came to an end.

 

“Many intellectual insights which people could have reached,” he further writes, “were never reached due to the [justified] fear of never being able to reach the pinnacle. And many human imperfections are allowed to remain simply out of fear that one will never be able to completely overcome them.”

 

Though a Jew must always be careful and thought out, “One must be careful as well not to be too careful!” concludes the author. Fear of never being able to reach or produce perfection can paralyze a person to the extent that he loses so much of what he could have attained. If every person who wants to do good would wait until he can be absolutely positive that his intentions are completely pure and his actions are clear of the slightest blemish, “then no chesed would ever be performed and people would be empty of good middos,” Rabbeinu Bachya tells us. “The paths of virtue would never be traveled, and the ways of chesed would be abandoned,” because no human — other than a prophet — can say with certainty that his way is perfect.

 

Imagine a world without a Chovos Halevavos.

 

Rabbeinu Bachya is telling us that we, too, are cheating ourselves and the world when we withhold that which we have to contribute. Too many of us give up because we realize that we’ll never reach perfection — or even close to it. If we look around, we see that young people — especially teenagers — are often fired up and filled with fervor during Elul or even throughout the year. Young people still dream of reaching far one day, and they thus find it easy to expend their fullest effort into trying to change or accomplish.

 

Once people have somewhat settled into their lives, they see themselves in a more realistic light and rarely picture themselves shooting out of their general sphere of existence to reach far beyond. “I’m not going to become the gadol hador or the neighborhood rebbetzin this year,” we think, “so what exactly do I have to offer? One amein more, one amein less, one time more or less that I control what comes out of my mouth, one petty personal nisayon more or less that I overcome, will it change all that much? I’m me and that’s who I am. There’s not much about which to get all fired-up.”

 

Forgetting for a moment that Rebbi Akivabegan studying Torah only after the age of forty and that people can reach amazing heights at any stage of their lives, we must never lose sight of all the small steps that come far before perfection. Paralyzing ourselves because we’re not going to reach perfection just yet is like giving up $1,100 income a month because we’re not going to get $1,200. Whatever income we can make this month, let’s go for it! Whether it’s greater or lesser, it’s far more than what we gain while waiting for perfection — which is nothing.

 

It’s true for shidduchim and it’s true for life in general: Waiting to reach the zenith will too often only land us in the clearance rack. While some shidduch material may indeed have been overpriced in the first place, there is not one single shehakol, one moment of proper kavanah or one little act of giving that does not command the full price Up where it counts. No matter how far from perfection we might be, we can still get top dollar for even our tiniest investment.

 

Why not invest and earn.

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