The Two Types of Perfection

The 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia are in full swing. And everyone seems particularly into it.

 The excitement, the spectacular light and sound shows, and the hilarious Russian glitches.

 After all, in Russia, Olympics watch you.

 Everyone wants to see the incredible feats of human achievement, people who push their bodies to levels that the rest of us don’t even dream of.

However, in a couple of weeks there will be another event, one that gets a lot less attention: the Paralympics.

Below is an incredible video ad for the event. Watch it.

Awesome promos notwithstanding, we all know that the Paralympics are a lot less popular, which is understandable. We are attracted to perfection, and those “unspecial” sportspeople certainly seem to have achieved an unmatched level of physical perfection.

But Judaism teaches that there are two types of perfection: there’s absolute perfection, which is an objective, perfect state. For example, of all the people in the world, you luge the best.

English: How luge looks to a fast camera and l...

Outside: Look at my perfectly pointed toes.
Inside: OMG OMG OMG OMG!

And then there is subjective perfection, where, to borrow the US Army’s slogan, you “be all that you can be.” You maximize the resources that you were given when you were born, and you use them to the fullest. Where you rank in the world order – It doesn’t matter.

The first type of perfection, we are taught, applies to God. God is objectively perfect. And part of us is really attracted to that, and wants to become perfect just like God.

But we’re forgetting one teensy-weensy, incredibly important point: we can’t become perfect, and shouldn’t try. For humans, only subjective perfection exists. We were created to continuously improve, not be perfect; it’s the only thing that’s fair and the only measure that gives an equal chance to all of humanity.

To the 7,212,046,356 non-Olympic lugers.

So while it’s understandable that we are attracted to the glamorous, regular Olympics, it’s the Special Olympics that we should really admire, relate to, and learn from.

We can look to the individuals who overcame their setbacks and rose above them. To the men and women who are fully aware of their imperfections, and work to be the best that they can be in a field about which they are passionate.

Hishtalmoot meditation is very much about this process. Realizing that we are not supposed to ever become perfection itself, which in Hebrew is called “shlemut”. Human beings were created imperfect, and as such there is no reason to expect us to change our nature and become perfect.

Rather, we are supposed to continuously evolve, appreciating the process itself is the end result, not some means to a higher end.This concept of embracing the process of becoming more perfect as a value is called “hishtalmoot”, and transforms perfection to a verb into an adjective. Perfection in process. 

It would serve us well to remember the closing words of the ad: “It’s not about what’s missing, it’s about what’s there.”

This article originally appeared in Jerusalem U‘s blog.

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