A few days ago, I woke up after an unusually vivid dream. In the dream, I had accidentally acquired sixteen parakeets while shopping at Target, and was trying to figure out what to do with them. When I told my husband about this dream, he thought of my sister, who for many years has had parakeets as pets – and I thought, maybe I should give my sister a call. I called her later that day, curious about how she was doing, and wondering if the dream somehow related to real life.
As we talked, I was relieved that her real-life parakeets were doing well, and that her life in general was going smoothly. Our conversation progressed to friends and family, and we began to reflect on big-picture topics. We are both old enough now to begin to understand in a deep way that our time on earth is not limitless, that we can work towards all our dreams yet may never accomplish all our goals, and that we can steer our life in a particular direction yet can’t determine where we’ll end up. We may never completely close the gap between our dreams and our reality.
Our parashah this week, Ha’azinu, proclaims, “The Rock! God’s ways are perfect.” Every year I read this sentence, and a part of me thinks, “Really?!” Especially this year, with wildfires, pandemic, and politics — are you trying to tell me God’s ways are perfect? We must live with a constant gap between our dreams and our reality — how could anyone possibly proclaim the perfection of God’s ways?
The Midrash comments on this verse in Sifrei Devarim (307:4), explaining:
God’s works are perfect – complete – for all creatures on earth, and we shouldn’t worry about God’s deeds, for none of them are crooked. And no one should look and say, “If only I had three eyes,” or “If only I had three hands,” or “If only I walked on my head, how wonderful it would be for me!”
While I don’t think I have ever seriously wished for three hands, I have had many moments in my life when I wished things were different, when I felt that the hand I had been dealt was far from perfect, far from complete. As we look at the lives of our friends and those in our community, we are forcefully confronted with the truth that many of us did not receive in our childhood the love, care, and safety all children deserve. As Harriet teaches, life isn’t fair; “the Fair is in Pomona.”
Rabbi Shais Taub explains, “If you have a problem with reality, you have a problem with God.” That is to say, God has created and is creating this reality we are all experiencing together; God has created and is creating the specific circumstances of my life and the specific challenges I face. As our Midrash continues and concludes, “God sits with each and every creature in justice, and gives each one what is fitting for them.”
While the challenges we face in life are not fair, they are unique, special, and personal. God has created each person different from every other; God has created each life perfectly imperfect. When we look at circumstances in our lives and wish they were different, it is as if we wished that we had three eyes and that we walked on our head. It might seem like a great idea to us at the time, yet from a different perspective, our desire to have life be different doesn’t quite make sense: reality, by virtue of it being the way things are, is the way things should be.
We learn from recovery that we are better off when we embrace reality than when we fight it. Fighting against reality, fighting against God, creates a battle that we cannot ever win. However, when we make a decision to partner with God, to join forces to shape reality in partnership with our Higher Power, we open up an experience of life that is completely different. In time, we see that our world is far from perfect – yet in its way, it is perfect for us. It gives us the opportunities we need to learn and grow: to become aware of self-will and God’s will, and to make a choice between the one and the other.
As we move into this Shabbat together and prepare for Yom Kippur, our holy Day of Atonement, may we embrace reality – this reality that we are being given. May we look at the perfect imperfection all around us and be inspired to live in God’s will – to partner with God to shape reality, to learn, and to grow.
Gmar Chatima Tova, and Good Shabbos!