May 18, 2019
13 Iyar 5779
© 2019 Paul M. Hamburger
In Parshat Emor the Torah includes rules concerning the qualities of those animals brought as sacrifices. Specifically, the animal must be pure or perfect (“Tamim” in Hebrew) and cannot have any defect or deformity (“Ein bo moom”). The Torah follows that general admonition with a list of specific blemishes or deformities that would disqualify the sacrifice. But why does the Torah say that the animal sacrifice has to be pure or perfect (Tamim) AND have no blemish or defect (Ein bo moom)? Isn’t it enough to say that the animal must be perfect? Doesn’t that imply that it has no blemish or defect?
Here is another way to look at it. The category of pure or perfect animals available for sacrifices includes those that have blemishes and those that do not. In other words, the animal must be BOTH perfect AND have no blemish. This leaves open the possibility that some animals are “pure” or “perfect” but happen to have a blemish.
We see a similar point with regard to the Kohen. The Kohen who is allowed to come before G-d to make certain offerings must be a Kohen but without any specific blemishes or deformities. But even a Kohen with a blemish is still a Kohen.
When we offer up a sacrifice to G-d, the sacrifice should be perfect; we should not settle for any blemish at all. Similarly, our designated representative and leader, the Kohen, should be “perfect” and without blemish when he stands before G-d.
However, as Voltaire said, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” In other words, in our pursuit of perfection in our connection to G-d, we tend to overlook and even reject that which is left behind which, at its essential level, is still quite good.
In the morning we say “Elokai neshama shenatata bi tehora he”; the soul that you, G-d, implanted in me is pure. Sure, I may muddy it up a bit during the day; but that does not mean my soul or my essence is any less pure than when G-d implanted it in me.
Therein lies an important lesson. Our perfectionist side will often look at the world and have trouble dealing with “blemishes” or “defects.” We see the defects around us (or within us) and think that the defects define reality (or define who we are). But maybe what we do and who we are is essentially “perfect” even when it is blemished. And, we don’t need to wait for some other standard of perfection before we are ready to live up to our potential and use our talents to perfect the world around us.