Parsha Musings by Rabbi Shmuel Wagner: The Rebbe Rashab branded a new model of chossid, elevating the expectation and setting the standard for a Yid to be complete in their service of Hashem. But how does that apply to me, who is full of mistakes?
By Rabbi Shmuel Wagner
Word of the week? Probably “תמים”.
Whether it was a Farbrengen you attended, a podcast you played, a forwarded-many-times WhatsApp message you forwarded – or hey! This year it could have been a Haken Music Video! – the chances are high that celebrating the birthday of the רבי רש”ב on כ’ חשון included a mention of the monumental impact he had on Jewish history: his founding of ישיבת תומכי תמימים.
What is a “תמים”?
It would be impossible to address this in one article, and it would be imprudent to even attempt. But we could focus on one angle – the translation of the very word.
Complete. “תמים” means “Complete”.
The רבי רש”ב branded a new model of חסיד, elevating the expectation and setting the standard for a איד to be complete in their service of Hashem.
What does that mean?
Well, first, here is what it does not mean:
It does not mean “perfection”. That is for sure.
Perfectionism can be unhealthy. Perfection is not what Hashem craved in creating humans when He already had angels. Being perfect is not the goal of חסידות.
The goal is to be complete; not perfect. Be a “תמים”; not a “שָׁלֵם”.
What is the difference?
Consider this example:
A tire with a hole.
Is it perfect? No. Is it complete? No.
A tire with a hole, but you patch the hole.
Is it perfect? No. Is it complete? Yes.
Whereas “perfection” focuses on precision, “completion” focuses on functionality.
Whereas “perfection” cannot handle any error, no matter how slim, “completion” can embrace any error, no matter how grim.
Mr. (or Mrs.) Perfect cannot see the tire with a hole as a tire any longer. Even after it is patched up, the image of the hole burns a hole in their consciousness, and it can never be rectified. Because to be rectified means that something was ever wrong, and to have ever been wrong punctures their picture of per.fec.tion.ism.
Mr. (or Mrs.) Complete can accept the tire with the patched hole. Because while a hole indeed renders the tire useless, a patch pokes a hole in the uselessness, mends the hole and renders the tire whole.
Obviously, the criterion in all this is, the hole must be patched. But once the error was dealt with, once the mistake was handled and the original goal can still be fulfilled, a hiccup in the original plan does not throw “completion” off-kilter.
Time to retire the entire tire example. How do you look at yourself?
When you realize you have a bad habit or a negative feeling, does that deflate you, preventing you from moving on? Or can you live with yourself not being the exact image you may have initially had in mind? Do you forgive, or do you forget about the whole thing?
Does messing up and making a mistake mar your mindset of mastery being a must? Do errors erode your extreme expectations of excellence?
Or can you finally face your fear of falling, flapping your fleegles and flying post-failing? Can you correct the crashes of your chaotic confusions, clearing the chasm and climbing to conclusions?
Be a “תמים”. Be complete. No, do not strive to be perfect, because that is not what Hashem wants from you. It is ok to fall, to err, to mess up. If you know how to grow from it, if you can patch up the hole, then not only will the hurdle not trip you up but au contraire – you will learn to leap over it, reaching heights maybe otherwise unattainable. As the aphoristic adage attests, “אין דבר שלם מלב שבור”, “Nothing is as complete as a shattered heart”.
Question is, how do we do this? How do we be a תמים throughout our journey of life, and not allow failures to drag us down?
The answer is from the opening פסוק of this week’s פרשה:
“ויהיו חיי שרה מאה שנה ועשרים שנה ושבע שנים שני חיי שרה”, “And the years of Sarah were one hundred years, twenty years, and seven years, the years of the life of Sarah.”
The obvious question, addressed by מפרשים including of course רש”י, is why does the פסוק repeat itself? After opening with the words “ויהיו חיי שרה”, what do we learn from the פסוק’s ending of “שני חיי שרה”?
רש”י answers that these words teach us that all שרה’s years – although divided into groups of one hundred, twenty, and seven – were all equally good, “כולן שוין לטובה”.
How can we say that all שרה’s years were equally good? Did שרה not suffer?! Was שרה not abducted, not once but twice?! Did שרה not suffer from childlessness until the age of 90 – 90! – to the point that she tells her husband that until she bears a child she is shattered?! To the point that she does not even believe the מלאך saying that she will indeed have a child!?
How can we say that the euphoric joy experienced by שרה after finally giving birth, saying “צחוק עשה לי א-לקים”, equally existed by her throughout her entire life?
The answer is based on the זהר’s explanation to the above question on “שני חיי שרה”. The זהר answers that these doubled words teach us that שרה was in control of her life. “דילה הוו חיין”, “her life was hers.”
שרה never relinquished control of herself. Yes, of course שרה suffered. But שרה never viewed herself as a victim of her suffering. שרה lived by the meaning of her name – “שררה”, “rulership” – and ruled over the negativity happening to her. שרה tapped into her deeper, core existence, one where suffering does not exist, and lived the life of her נשמה, an extension of Hashem. All her years were one continuous flow of nothing but good, because in the life of Hashem’s נשמה, there is only good.
With this – and with the תורה choosing to teach us this about her – our mother שרה empowers us all to lift ourselves above our shortcomings, and to identify ourselves as our נשמה. Yes, I may have done bad, but I am not bad. Yes, I may have negative habits, but I am not negative. I am in command of my habits and moods, not vice versa. I will never hand the reins of control over my life into the hands of my destructive feelings, my damaging addictions, or my unhealthy choices. I will not let them define me, because they are not me! I am a נשמה, an extension of the Ultimate Good, indeed lowered into this lowly land of lies, but for the purpose of lifting myself and living life on a lofty level.
I am a תמים: complete with imperfections, whole with holes.
דילי הוו חיין. My life is mine to choose to live.