Who Is Perfect?
I can’t believe I missed it by one verse! I want to talk about Exodus 27:20, which turns out not to be from this week’s parashah, Terumah, but is the very 1st verse in next week’s parashah, Tetzaveh.
Verse 20 is part of God’s instructions to the Israelites for how to build the Mishkan, the desert Tabernacle. “Bring clear oil of beaten olives,” Moses tells them on God’s behalf, “for kindling the Eternal Light.”
“Beaten olives” the Torah tells us. Of course, how else can you get olive oil? You have to beat them. But our Sages couldn’t help seeing their own, often difficult, lives in this image. And it brought them comfort.
In the book of Jeremiah, olive trees are described as being y’feh p’ree to’ar … “beautiful with goodly fruit.” The Midrash teaches us that the olive is beaten, pressed, ground down, and only then does it produce its oil, which then gives rise to glowing, beautiful light.
And while people don’t have to be “ground down” in order to produce beauty, life kind of does that to us anyway.
At this time of year, we get colds. Some of us have to stay in bed for a while. And when we finally get better, we’re so happy to be out of bed, out of the house, and back living our lives. When I was laid up a few weeks back with my cold, I was not a very pretty thing. Just ask Ellen. I was coughing, and sneezing, and blowing my nose. And then there was, “Ellen, can you get me a cup of juice? Can you bring me some soup? Can you take my temperature?” I don’t think she thought I a very pretty thing either.
But here’s what’s worth noting. I am so happy to be back at temple. I am so happy to be able to help Ellen do things around the house again. I’m so happy to take Charlie for walks again. Life is better, because I’ve seen what it’s like the other way.
Beauty is something we feel we know, but it can change as our experiences change.
I want to share with you a beautiful video. It’s subject is beauty. The film makers use the word “perfect.”
They went looking for perfection, for beauty, and found it in what we, at first blush, might think an unexpected place. But what I love about this video is that, after about a minute, it dawns on us, “Of course. Why didn’t I notice that before?”
A pretty remarkable video, with a great lesson for us all: Beauty is everywhere, but sometimes we need a friend to help us see it.
In the book of Genesis, chapter 1, verse 27, “God created humanity in the Divine image. In the image of God were they created.” So important was it that we know our roots are sacred ones, that we were fashioned after none other than the Creator of the Universe, the Torah tells it to us twice. Even we have to be reminded that we’re beautiful.
Of course, looking like God is probably not a physical thing. The rabbis seem to think it has something to do with the way we act, the way we treat one another, whether or not we can look at a person whom others dismiss as unattractive and see the Divine image right there.
Here’s a different kind of beauty. The beauty of ideas. The beauty of imagination. Last summer, Tyler Levan walked into his parents’ bedroom shortly after his bedtime and told them, “I’m afraid of the monsters and bears.” Tyler’s dad did what his father had done for him. He took out his monster spray and shpritzed Tyler’s door, his windows, his closet and his bed. Tyler’s parents then hugged him goodnight but Tyler stopped them, saying, “But how will the spray work if monsters aren’t real?”
Just beautiful! Tyler somehow managed to make the unreal real and then unmake it again. That’s art! And except for the scary part, it’s beautiful.
So expect the unexpected, and watch life get really interesting. Try not to ever dismiss something when your inner voice says it’s not interested.
There’s so much beauty in this world, but because we seem to insist on wearing blinders, most of us are missing lots of it.
There’s some truth, I think, to the idea that the difficulties in life can make us more sensitive to the goodness and the loveliness that still remain. So next time you’re hurting, stay alert, something beautiful may be coming along next. And you may just be one of the very few who can see it.
Maybe that’s what it means when the Torah says we were created in the “Divine image.” Just as God stays pretty invisible, maybe there’s all this good stuff that’s invisible too because we shut ourselves off from it.
Perfection and beauty are everywhere. Let’s open our eyes and open our hearts, and celebrate it all!