A rebbe one quiet summer evening changed forever my perspective of enlightenment. The subject of that evening was "perfection." This rebbe said, "Kabbalists say that Ein Sof [Boundlessness] is perfect, by definition, and this universe is constantly in the process of perfecting itself. Indeed, Judaism says that the very purpose of existence is the continuous perfecting of the universe.
"Imagine an advanced computer program in an 'intelligent' computer that is designed to learn as it goes. Each time it does a function, it learns by its mistakes and does the function more efficiently the next time. As long as it is learning, constantly improving, it is fulfilling its purpose.
"However, if the computer functions in a way that it ceases to improve itself, it is programmed to self-destruct. Why? Because its purpose is to continuously perfect itself. If it achieves perfection, it no longer has anything to do. Thus it enters a stalemate with no place to go.
"God represents perfection. This universe represents the potential for perfecting. Can we ever expect to make the universe perfect? The kabbalistic answer is no. Because our purpose is to continuously perfect ourselves and the universe. If we achieve perfection, we are finished and the universe would cease to exist.
"Indeed, for the Kabbalist, perfection is an absurd goal because an essential aspect of God's perfection is the creation. You see, perfection cannot be perfect without the potential for perfecting! The Baal Shem Tov has said, 'The book of the Zohar has, each and every day, a different meaning.' This is a crucial understanding."
One of the students asked: "Rebbe, before I came to Jerusalem, I used to study with a teacher in another tradition. The teaching was that everything is perfect, everyone is perfect, everything happens as it is supposed to and there are no accidents. The only reason that we do not appreciate this perfection is due to our limited perspective. Once we become more enlightened, we will see that everything is perfect.
This idea seemed right to me. Now you are saying just the opposite. Not only are we not perfect, but nothing is perfect and never can be. This makes me very uncomfortable."
The rebbe smiled when he heard this and mused quietly to himself for a minute before responding. Then he said: "Is a child born perfect or in a state of perfectibility? Of course, we would say both. Are we perfect as we sit here, or are we in a state of perfectibility? Depending upon our frame of reference we can see both sides and we can choose to focus on either.
"My own inclination is to work with reality as an experience of perpetual imperfection. Life is the process of being constantly urged this way and that; we are never satisfied with what is. We rarely attain a sense of perfection, and if we ever do it only lasts for a moment. We live in paradox. We rarely want what we can have, and we often desire what is out of our reach.
"We never meet the perfect friend, the perfect spouse, or the perfect teacher. And, if we follow the belief that perfection is within our reach, we assuredly will become frustrated, unhappy and unfulfilled, or even worse, bored, constantly tired and indifferent.
"This view of our continuous perfecting is of great importance. Once we fully appreciate that our purpose is not to achieve some transcendental level, but to deal with the imperfect world as a partner in creation, we gain the very thing we turn away from. That is to say, once we surrender to the fact that we will constantly be repairing our own souls and those around us, we gain a new sense of the fullness of each moment.
"You see, the myth of perfection is one in which we constantly are dissatisfied with what is currently happening. We are never here because we are always trying to be "there;" wherever that is. But understand this important teaching: When we accept each moment as a new opportunity for fulfilling our purpose, we are always present, always succeeding, always changing the world for the better. And, we are always 'here.'
The rebbe continued. "One of my teachers in life, a woman Sufi, taught me this idea about here and there. She said simply, 'Forget about there; it does not exist. We only have here. This is it.' Whenever you use the word 'there,' check yourselves carefully to see if the word 'here' could be more correct. Nine out of ten times it will be.
"When we fully realize that life is here, right now, we do not fall asleep and we don't get bored. We don't seek the perfect mate or the perfect teacher. We make the best choices we can and work with what we have. With perfecting as our model, we do not need to look beyond what we have.
"Our sages ask, 'Who is rich?' The answer, 'One who is happy with his or her lot.' It goes on to say, 'This person is praiseworthy in this world and all will be well in the world to come.' May we all be blessed to find comfort in being less than perfect, and to find peace in the eternal chaos of life. The era of messianic consciousness lives within us. Remember, we are always here."