Man, Not Superman

When you’ve spent enough years of your life living with Gemara, the Jerusalem Talmud, you take it for granted that the sages who participated in this several-centuries-long project were a diverse group. Most held a variety of jobs to, often barely, support their families. They found themselves in family dramas, communal quarrels, political power struggles and, always, a search for non-trivial truth, not just in interpreting and selecting which halacha to apply in any given situation, but also in describing Jewish History and deciding to disclose and share tiny slices of our spiritual tradition. They didn’t back away from argument and controversy, didn’t hesitate from irony and sarcasm, but were unafraid to admit folly and to ask forgiveness.

No one of them ever knew, or even claimed to “know it all”. At the very best, one could contribute but a tiny part of the overall picture, and all would immediately admit that it was impossible for any human being to have a complete picture of reality.

Nonetheless, or perhaps in merit of all this, these great holy scholars, quarrelsome and closed-minded as they occasionally are, were trusted with fragments of Universal Meaning (the Meaning of the Universe). Because of Man’s very imperfection he has a relationship with an equally imperfect world. (Rashi points out (Breishit 1:11) that the Creation Process itself was defective (and this can only have been intentional!). On the third day when the earth is commanded to bring forth fruit trees bearing fruit (Eitz pri oseh pri), the world responds by creating only trees bearing fruit (Eitz oseh pri–verse 12). From its very beginning, the Torah goes out of it’s way to remind us of that very imperfection of the world which allows us, in our own imperfection, to completely engage with our world in order to do those things we were created to do.

If a man were, somehow, perfect, he would no longer be worthy of mastering and understanding the world as we are mandated to do. We are able to partner with The Creator in perfecting this world only because we, like the world itself, were born defective. And only through this process can we transcend ourselves, recreating ourselves in accordance with The Divine Wisdom, as we also re-create the world to it’s originally-intended perfection, thus fixing all the cascading disasters, both physical and spiritual, which followed.

Keyn yehi ratzon, May it be His will.

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