Rabbi Chaim Dovid Green
I Am A Work in Progress
I was describing a scene recently that had occurred in a crowded shul
where I had gone to pray the afternoon service. A fellow walked in near
the end with a look that was rather tenuous and uncertain. He got the
siddur open to a page on the back of the book with his finger poised at a
certain point. He looked around as if awaiting some cue. The service ended
and people started to exit. Seeing that, he asked the fellow next to him if
it's over and in a semi-panic state he began to recite haltingly the
mourners kaddish from the transliteration at the back of the siddur. Some
people gathered around him and afterward he told them that his mother had
just died and he had come to say kaddish for her. I was relating the
story partially in admiration of his courage to enter a strange
environment and recite strange words in a foreign language aloud, and
partially in awe of the powerful lure of an adult child to do something
significant for a deceased parent.
My meaning was misunderstood and someone in the group suggested that maybe
the people there considered him to be a hypocrite for only coming then to
the synagogue. Nothing had been farther from the truth. Actually, that
person had been immediately swallowed into a sea of concern and empathy.
It's a little like the bad joke about the boy who hadn't say a word for
fifteen years and his parents thought him incapable of speech until one
night at dinner when he threw his spoon down in disgust and declared,
"Arrrrrrrgg! The soup is terrible!" His mother jumped with joy and
exclaimed, "John, you spoke! But, how come you didn't say anything till
now?" To which he blithely answers, "Till now the soup was good!"
The parent cares less why he didn't speak till now and focuses on the fact
that now he speaks. Even if a person opens his mouth in prayer only in a
time of pain and sorrow, that kaddish, that tearful sincere expression is
certainly received with joy. Why a person didn't pray till now is less
important to the Receiver of prayer. Till now the soup was pretty good!
Life was smooth and creamy.
Furthermore, there is a crucial distinction between being a hypocrite and
being inconsistent. If a person comes to lay a carpet in my living room and
somewhere in the middle of the job I spot him going out to his truck I am
not ready to condemn his work on the spot and report him to The Better
Business Bureau. Even though the rug is full of bumps and not every corner
is buckled down, still, if he goes out to his truck and eats his lunch, the
lack of job completion is only an indicator that more work is yet to be
done. Why should I panic and come to false conclusions? However, if he
enters his truck, revs the engine, heads home and sends me a bill, thereby
declaring that he considers the job is complete, then I'll have Ralph Nader
on the phone in the drop of a carpet nail.
When person says that he is the archetype of virtue and the model of
perfection, as if the job is done, crowning personal errors or
institutionalizing human foibles as ideals; these are the boldest
invitations to be titled hypocrite.
I asked a great man what the definition of a positive self-esteem is and he
answered simply; "Knowing your good points and your bad points!" When
striving for goodness, inconsistencies will continue to appear. The moment
a person improves in one area there are other areas to be updated. When one
dish is being koshered the other dishes may not yet be koshered. If that's
being a hypocrite then we could not afford to try to be perfect until we
There are two faults here. The first is to pretend to be perfect and the
other not to at least try to become better. I have seen it displayed on
the fancy buildings in Manhattan when under renovation, "Pardon our
appearance, work in progress." When we stand honestly before our Father in
heaven on the holy day of Yom Kippur it is important to neither feign
perfection or to fall into despair.
The healthiest way to succeed may be to hang a sign on the wall of your
heart simply declaring, "Pardon my appearance I am a work in progress!"
Good Shabbos! A Good Yom Tov!
Text Copyright © 2000 Rabbi Dovid Green and Project Genesis, Inc.