Off the Pulpit: Excellence, Not Perfection


As a child I had the disorienting experience of visiting other children’s homes and discovering that their families sometimes did things better than my own. Because I loved my own family and thought them ideal, I didn’t know what to do with this information. Eventually I came to recognize that something or someone you love can be excellent without being perfect.

As I grew I came to this realization about my country. The United States is unique. Ours is a remarkable and blessed land. Yet I have studied history and know that we have also done some disreputable and even horrendous things throughout history. The United States is magnificent but it is not perfect.

In time I learned this about my own tradition. As I met with scholars and teachers in other religions I recognized that there were things Judaism could learn from them. Judaism had a great deal to teach, but it is both arrogant and narrow to believe it has nothing to learn. Judaism is sublime but not perfect. No one person, family, nation or tradition is given everything. Part of excellence is the willingness to learn from one another.

(Rabbi David Wolpe is the senior rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.)

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