We started so many times – where are all those beginnings? Is there any way to assemble the pieces into something whole?
The palace is getting ready for the big day of the coronation. Kingdom bigwigs come and go as ministers and countless laborers fill the halls with bustle. Inside, in a private chamber, sits the king and with him is his trusted advisor. Before them is a detailed design of the royal crown. The greatest artisans in the world are toiling on the creation of the magnificent symbol of the kingdom’s might and glory. The king is asking his trusted advisor to choose for him the appropriate jewel that will adorn the very top of the crown. The advisor suggested a rare diamond that can be found only in a far away land. A special, loyal man is chosen for the difficult quest of fetching the precious stone. The man himself cannot understand how he’ll ever be able to accomplish the feat. How can he travel that far, all alone on a road fraught so with dangers, to the place where the stone can be found? But the king just says, ‘Go to the house of my advisor. Stay with him at his house. There you will find what you need for your quest.’
Sure enough, a few days later, after spending time with the monarch’s friend, the loyal man has absorbed the necessary survival skills. Now the stone is within reach. Keeping to a few rules, he’ll be able to traverse the great distances, overcome the trials along the way, and bring the crown jewel to the king.
We started many times (and we intended to start even more times …) but we still came to a screeching halt every single time. Some new beginnings were truly spectacular, full of zest and enthusiasm … only to fizzle out before we even took the first step. Those beginnings just dispersed like dust in the wind, lost in space, drowning into a void of depression and lethargy. Is there a way to turn this dust powder into something whole? Can we even hope to stick to a new start and reach completion – dare we say perfection?
The answer is in parshat Tetzaveh. In last week’s parsha we were ordered to bring a donation of half a shekel. Whatever ‘semi-goodness’ we possessed was warmly received and became a part of the Mishkan, enabling the divine inspiration of the people of Israel. Now, however, the Mishkan is already standing and in it we are to perform services with ‘temple-class’ sanctity. From the preparation of the Menorah through the sacrifices, the toil of the Mishkan demands uncompromising perfection.
The Menorah was fed oil that was the best and purest. After all, if you wish to set the souls and hearts of the people of Israel aflame, you must feed them the purest of fuels. Mediocre oils are plentiful, but the very best are few and far between. ‘Perfect deeds’ are Mitzvos that are filled with love and awe. They are performed with punctiliousness, wholehearted, and inspired excitement. And above all, they are infused by the purest thought in heart and mind.
This is about as rare as the crown Jewels of England.
The secret of survival
When a Jew sets out to bring the crowning jewel for the King’s crown, parshat Tetzaveh orders him to adhere to the Tzaddik. The Tzaddik is the only truly loyal friend the King has. He is the only one who can instruct a Jew how to survive the adventurous trip to the perfect deed.
The problem is that one may lose perfection just because of his very ambition for it. The tremendous thirst to do something whole, complete with pure mind and heart, can make us despair even before we begin. Perfection is far, and the only way we can get to it is if we stick together. Obtaining ‘pure oil’, says the Parsha, can only be acquired through togetherness with Tzaddikim.
Tzaddikim teach us the principle that ‘nothing good ever gets lost’ – no matter how compelling the evidence to the contrary. The tiny shards of goodness we perform are forever kept in the vaults of Hashem. Tzaddikim teach us that the reason why we don’t reach perfection is because we lose all our new beginnings along the way. The Tzaddikim, who are Hashem’s loyal emissaries, are collecting every good deed and every holy thought a Jew has and ‘brings them home’. Together, all the little pieces make a perfect whole. This is why the secret to perfection is adhering to those Tzaddikim.
The mistake seekers of Hashem make far too often is that they think that perfection is achieved through perfect steps along the way. Our righteous guides teach us that perfection is built, just like the Mishkan, with half-deeds and semi-precious points of light. The secret is for someone to collect all the pieces, put them together, and build perfection out of them all.
Togetherness has a tremendous power. Imagine a person sitting by himself, studying a certain Torah sugiya. He is tying one bit of understanding to another, weaving the pieces together into a coherent vista. The next day he looks at it again and finds, to his horror, that the subject is more confusing than it ever was! Forgetfulness untied the tenuous links between the pieces of comprehension, turning answers into questions, and reasonable assumptions into perplexing mysteries. But if two people sit together on the issue, they will easily remind one another of all the forgotten details. And whatever these two forget, a third person can remind them both! Togetherness can maintain the missing pieces and put them all together.
The road to pure olive oil cannot be traversed by a single person, traveling on his own. He has to join the Tzaddikim who collect everyone’s pieces of achievement. Oil is produced by breaking down the olives. Perfection is achieved by putting the pieces together following the breaking down process.
We must remember that all deeds, even those who seem lacking, have in them an undeniable point of perfection. Any Torah study, as imperfect as it may seem, is blemished only here, in this passing, transient world. Hashem considers it perfect if it is performed with the wish is to serve Hashem with it in mind. If this is the reason behind the study, His will was already accomplished.
Since perfection is, per definition, impossible, every step towards it is perfection itself.