A story from the Midrash tells us that the Israelites handpicked only the most beautiful and perfect stones for the construction of the Temple. In the process, they came across a single imperfect stone and tossed it aside, believing that it was not good enough. Only the finest stones could be used to create such a sacred space! However, when they were ready to lay the last stone, they had run out. They only needed one more to complete the Temple. Desperate, the builders searched for the imperfect stone. When they found it and placed it into the last gap, which happened to be a part of the Holy of Holies (a chamber reserved for the presence of God, only to be entered by the High Priest on Yom Kippur), they discovered, to their amazement, that it fit perfectly. The flawed stone completed the construction of the Temple.
In the quest for excellence, we tend to fool ourselves into believing that perfection is best. The trouble with perfection is that it prevents us from seeing the big picture. Perfection draws our attention to the details, which can slow down growth and transformation. In some situations, we become so mired in perfecting the details that progress comes to a screeching halt. Kabbalist Rav Berg says of perfectionists, “their view of the world may become reduced to a grain of sand, when an entire beach should be taken into account.” When it comes to life, it’s important to see the beach, not the sand.
We should always aim to improve ourselves, and the world around us by setting goals and intentions, then doing our best to meet them. In the process we hope to learn, grow, transform, and perhaps even encourage others to do the same. Yet, as we build our lives—career, family, social circles—we can get caught up in the illusion of perfection. One of our biggest misconceptions is that we need to be perfect in order to make a difference in the world. Making perfect choices, having perfect things, or surrounding ourselves with perfect people does not build a good life.
A good life, a life that makes a difference, is marked by kindness, compassion, sharing—and yes, sometimes flaws. A better world doesn’t mean a perfect world. By concerning ourselves less with the outcome of our endeavors, we are in no way lowering our standards for excellence. We are simply allowing ourselves to enjoy the unpredictable, the way in which our lives are blessed by imperfection.
We imagine ourselves to be the imperfect stone amidst a wall of impeccable stones, when in fact we are all flawed. Our unique talents and abilities and even our flaws enable us to fulfill our purpose for this lifetime. No one else can fulfill that purpose, no matter how charismatic or skilled. That role is reserved for each of us individually. “Every person in this world has a specific job that nobody else can do,” says Michael Berg. “Unless we do ours, we will be holding everyone else back.”