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Sukkot- Embracing Imperfection

Updated: Dec 9, 2023

I hate not being perfect. When I discover a typo in an email that I’ve sent, it’s painful. If I forget to call someone, I beat myself up. I know- it’s an impossible standard. And it’s not so healthy, because I sometimes, then, kind of, sort of, also expect other people to be perfect. That is a recipe for frustration and disappointment and alienation in the relationships that matter the most.

Which brings us to the sukkah, that most imperfect of structures. Each year, right after Yom Kippur, right after we’ve spent 10 days reminding ourselves of our own imperfection, we move into this imperfect little structure and call it home for a week. The sukkah needs only 2.5 walls to be kosher, and the roof must be more open than closed. The most imperfect of shelters, fragile and transient.

The mitzvah of the sukkah is just to sit there, to sit there and take it in. To sit there and realize that the sukkah is no home that we would want to live in on a permanent basis, yet, for one week, we call it good enough. Directly following all that effort during the Days of Awe focusing on the perfection of our souls, we are forced to contemplate, to surround ourselves, to just sit with imperfection.

Good enough is a hard concept. Sukkot is a celebration of nature, yet as we shake the lulav and etrog during the week they inevitably become dried out and wither, as does the schach that forms our semblance of a roof.  Everything eventually fades, and while we try to keep these things alive and beautiful as long as possible, we recognize that nothing in life lasts forever. Not everything broken can be fixed and sometimes we have to live with “good enough.” Michael J. Fox once said that, “I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence, I can reach for; Perfection is God’s business.” No matter how beautiful and perfect our etrog is, it will wither and lose its fragrance.

The embrace of imperfection is counter-cultural. Writing in the NY Times, Evgeny Morozov, author of To Save Everything Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism, points out the stated intention of Silicon Valley to destroy, “with particular gusto”, “barriers and constraints- anything that imposes artificial limits on the human condition.”[1] He calls this trend “solutionism,” the notion that technology can eliminate every individual foible and imperfection “with a nice and clean. . . solution.” He labels it a “pervasive and dangerous. . . intellectually (pathological) ideology.” Learning to appreciate imperfection in ourselves and in our world, is increasingly important. A lulav and etrog could be constructed on a 3-D printer, never to fade or die. Yet, they would not be kosher. For this particular mitzvah, we need the imperfect, organic model.

The desire for perfection can deter us from even getting started towards a goal. We may surrender to defeat, preferring to accomplish nothing if we know that the end result will be less than perfect. We may have trouble acknowledging our own humanity and accepting that of others. As we move into our Sukkot this week, let’s enjoy the beauty of this imperfect little structure, our beautiful lulav and etrog that will begin to crumble the moment we unwrap them, and embrace the counter-cultural idea that we should seek continual self-improvement and social well-being in a relaxed and healthy fashion, without the judgment that comes from perfectionism.

Morozov quotes a headline on the website of the British edition of Wired- “Africa? There’s an app for that.” Nooooo! No app for that. No app for Sukkot. I love Google Maps, I love Uber, and, with apologies to the cantor, I love Pocket Torah. But there’s no app for Sukkot and I’m just fine with that.

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