Living in an imperfect world


I am grateful to my beloved predecessor at Temple Beth-El, my cherished teacher William Braude, who shared something new with me about this week’s familiar Torah portion. It begins with the words: “These are the toldot, the generators (i.e., genealogical line) of Noah.

If you look carefully, Rabbi Braude told me, you will see that the Hebrew word toldot appears 13 times in the Torah. He noticed that in 11 of the 13 times the word has one letter missing. In other words, it is spelled imperfectly. There are only two instances where the word is spelled “perfectly” with all its letters intact. The first is found in the second chapter of the Book of Genesis: “These are the toldot of heaven and earth.” The second instance is at the conclusion of the Book of Ruth, which contains the geneology of King David, the ancestor of the Messiah.

One might say that at the beginning of creation the world was perfect. And in the time of the Messiah perfection will be once more restored. But in the meantime, we fallible human beings are destined to live in an imperfect world. The challenge for all of us is how to live with the imperfection of ourselves and others. Otherwise we are doomed to be disappointed.

Our Sages were always comparing Abraham and Noah.  Abraham always came out on top. Even though Abraham was never considered to be a perfect man, the patriarch was called “whole-hearted.” In other words, Abraham was characterized by sincerity, integrity and genuineness. These are traits we can emulate. It’s not perfect but certainly good enough.

LESLIE Y. GUTTERMAN is senior rabbi of Temple Beth-El in  Providence.