Must We Be Perfect?

D'var Torah by Rabbi Jay Spero


Must We be Perfect?

Contact Rabbi Spero at 862-9546 or


“And G-d said to Moshe: Ascend to me to the mountain and remain there, and I shall give you the stone tablets and the teaching and the commandment” (Ex. Ch.24 V.12).

Seforno, the classic Spanish commentator, explains the teaching as the intellectual element into which one must dive in order to understand the Torah. The commandment is in the actual performance thereof. It is these two together which lead a person to completion. Once the Jewish people had heard the voice of G-d at Sinai, it was only logical that they be given a purpose. This purpose was to keep the Torah, which would lead to the ultimate purpose, the perfection of the world.

There is one small problem: as history has in fact proven, although the Jewish people have in many ways been a “special nation”, nonetheless we are not even close to being perfect, and is that not what the Torah requires?

The Talmud in tractate Shabbos (88b) relates the following story: when Moshe went up to the mountain to receive the details of the Torah the Angels confronted G-d.  "How," they asked, "can you give the Torah to man, for he will surely mess it up?"  G-d told Moshe to answer this question himself. Moshe replied: The first of the 10 Commandments is “I am your G-d who took you out of Egypt.” Were the angels in Egypt? Guard the Shabbos and keep it special (by refraining from acts of creation). Do the angels perform any acts of creation from which they could refrain? Honor your parents. Do the angels have parents? With these answers the angels were appeased.

In essence Moshe was telling the angels: we were given the Torah precisely because we have the opportunity to fail; this is what makes our success so meaningful. The Maharal explains that there is a paradox. The Torah is perfect and eternal. Man is temporary. This was the question of the angels. Moshe of all people was able to answer them, because Moshe, more than all people, had spiritually elevated himself to such a high degree that he could talk face to face with G-d. Yet he was still a human. When the angels saw to what degree a human could elevate himself, the paradox was resolved.

What made Moshe so spiritually elevated? His humility. When the Jews were suffering under the Egyptians, although Moshe was not personally enslaved, he involved himself with his brothers, he made their suffering as if it was his (contrast that with the shameful behavior of large segments of American and Zionist leadership during the Holocaust). He spoke to G-d face to face, but he also knew when to subject himself to the will of G-d.

G-d does not expect perfection from us. He does expect us to strive and constantly attempt to improve ourselves. And He expects us to be humble. We don’t have to understand everything. Perhaps, for instance, we cannot understand that at Sinai the Jews actually saw the word of G-d. But we must have enough humility to admit we don’t understand it and we should not scoff at it. As the Torah relates, millions of people did see the commandments. Let us learn and observe them.

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