Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Crime of Mediocrity (Parshas Emor)

There are many cross breeds out there on the farm (and in San Diego) but the most common one by far, is that of a donkey stallion and a horse mare. What evolves is a Mule. The mule is known to be exceptionally strong. The reason being, that although the offspring is fully developed as a male or female, it is almost always born sterile, and therefore, unable to naturally further mule production. 
Sometimes, when an animal has a certain blemish or imperfection, that lack is compensated by an increase in strength or value of the animal. Unlike the mule who's sterile by birth, some animals are purposely castrated in order to increase their strength.
But, as taught to us in the sedra, this week, although these animals with blemishes might have a greater value because of it, they are still unfit for a korban.
Throughout the Torah, we find that completion and wholeness takes precedence over quantity. Say you have two types of bread on the table in front of you. One is a large loaf, conveniently pre-sliced. The other is a round, bite-size roll, strangely resembling a meatball. Which of these would have the honor of receiving your Hamotzee? Obviously the meatball one. Why? Because although the other is bigger and fluffier, and you even bought it at the French bakery, it has a blemish. It's not whole anymore. So the bracha goes on the one that's whole and pure, since that perfection makes it more choshuv.
Our avodas Hashem is not measured by quantity, but rather, by how close it is to perfection. The object of the game isn't about how many chumrahs we take upon ourselves, but rather, how carefully we do each mitzvah.
There's a gemorah that says: Haosek b'mitzvah patur min hamitzvah, when you're busy with one mitzvah, you're exempt from doing another one. Why is that? Shouldn't we spend the whole day grabbing 'em off the shelves and filling up our shopping carts with as many mitzvos as we can fit in? Sort of, but not quite.
When we're involved with a mitzvah, we have to make sure that it will be done properly and with completion. The gemorah warns a person very sternly, listing terrible punishments  which will be brought onto one who doesn't finish a mitzvah that he started. The idea is that if you're gonna do something, do it right. Otherwise we're settling for mediocrity. Mediocrity is problematic because it means that one does not allow himself to do or become something of ultimate value and therefore he sells himself short. Like, if someone would steal my Porsche and sell it on Ebay for the best bid. Ouch. That's painful, because it's worth soooo much more than that.
And this is the meaning of the gemorah- that we should be so focused  and active on the mitzvah at hand, and we're trying to fulfill it to completion and perfection, that we don't have to get involved with another one until the original is successfully done.

Now, if anyone just perked up, excited about learning a  Torahdik approach to allowing a lifestyle of laziness and procrastination, and you just got comfortable on the couch after refilling your glass with coke and ice, waiting to hear more about spending your whole life being busy with just ONE mitzvah, well, here's where I awaken you by spilling your cold, diluted coke all over you. Wait- first listen to me, then go change your clothes. 
This 'focus on one mitzvah at a time' thing is not to encourage laziness or stagnation. On the contrary. Of course we're trying to fill up our shopping carts, but if the new item is going to ruin one of the old ones in there, it's better that we first move the old one out of the way before adding a new one. If taking a new mitzvah upon yourself is going to interfere with doing the present one properly, we are not obligated to accept the new one. But, a person who wants to have the most items at checkout is going to finish up the original mitzvah quickly, and complete it as fast as he can, in order to be prepared to start the new one. So it's constant movement, focus, involvement, thinking, and determination. Any more questions Mr. Couch Warmer?
Ok, here's a great story about a great person, with a great moral. Rav Simcha Wasserman once gave an ultimatum to the principals of a few yeshivos in the United States, telling them that they have to make a choice. Either they teach secular studies properly and thoroughly in their yeshivos, or they shouldn't teach them at all. Because otherwise, he explained to them, they're teaching their b'nei Torah to be mediocre. And that's a crime.

We have to try our hardest to reach perfection in our actions. We have to give everything our best shot.
Success isn't measured by quantity, but by quality. It's not measured by how many kids we have, but rather by what kind of parent we are to them. Not by how many people we were mekarev, but by how much of a kiddush Hashem we make in their presence. Not by how many items we sold in our store today, but by how much of our heart was in it, and by how beautiful our business ethics were.
So, an animal can have many extra qualities because of a certain negative physical condition, but since it's lacking in its ability to reach perfection, it will be rejected as a korban. 
Before I sign off, there's one small thing bothering me.
We're supposed to be perfect. Yet, as human beings, we never can be. So why don't I just stop before I even start, so I don't hafta look like a drop-out?
Because no one's saying that we have to be perfect. Chill. Nobody is perfect- that's why pencils have erasers. Human beings are not capable of creating perfection, only G-d can make something perfect, and I really don't want His job. What can we do though? Great timing for this question. We're in the process right now of counting the days of sefiras haomer. We count up to 50, which is the numeral representing perfection. But we don't actually count the 50th day. We stop at 49. Because we're not capable of reaching perfection. But we are capable of counting 49. By counting 49, it's as if we counted 50. Why? Because 50 is the automatic result of putting in effort and achieving the first 49.
Now in English.
We cannot be perfect, but we can desire perfection and strive toward it. There are no perfect men in this world, (only perfect women?) only perfect intentions. We have to aim for the top and try our best in all our actions. If we spend 49 days striving for completion and perfection in our avodas Hashem, the results will be viewed by Hashem as perfection, as they're carried up to 50.
I just wanna share with you something awesome that I heard from a former student Leba (you know who you are) who heard it from Yocheved (you also know who you are), with special thanx to her anonymous chavrusa (do you know who you are?), and here it is. It's a mishnah in yuma:
Lifnei mi atem metaharim umi metaher eschem- Avichem shebashamayim- before whom are you purified, and who purifies you? Our Father in Heaven.
Take the word mi that's written twice. The numerical value of that word is 50. So now, let's understand this quote differently.
"Before 50, we hafta purify ourselves,  (umi) and from 50, Hashem purifies us." 
This is sooo groovy. Shkoyach. 
"The closest one comes to perfection is when he fills out his job application form".