Everyone - yes everyone - makes mistakes. In this week's Torah portion, Moses - the greatest, wisest human that ever lived - made a mistake and didn't exactly follow the instructions that God had given him (20:7-12). The Torah wants us to know that if even someone so great could make a mistake, we certainly can. While we should always try our best to do things right, we shouldn't expect ourselves to be perfect and if we err we shouldn't get too down on ourselves, but rather pick ourselves up and go on.
In our story, a kid discovers that not being perfect is perfectly okay.
More nervous than usual getting ready for school, Shari did, undid, and redid her ponytail until it was perfect. Then she tied, untied, and retied her shoelaces until they were perfect too. Shari liked everything just so, and that included doing well on tests in school. More than doing well, actually. It meant doing perfectly - 100% or forget about it! Today her class was getting their big multiple choice final back, and she was always a little jumpy on these types of days.
Sitting in her seat in class, Shari chewed her gum in rhythm as she watched the teacher hand out the test results. Chew, chew, SNAP! Chew chew SNAP. You could set your clock by it - even her timing was perfect.
Suddenly, Shari realized that her teacher was standing next to her desk, and before she knew it, her test paper was face down in front of her. She held her breath. She knew it would say 100, but what if...? She couldn't even consider the alternative.
She turned over the paper and her eyes went wide.
98!? How could it be? There must have been some mistake!
But no, these tests were marked by computer, and everyone knew that computers never made mistakes.
Shari put her head down on her desk and did not move from that position for the rest of the class. Her feelings of shame and disappointment were too much for her to bear, and so she didn't even try. Before she knew it, she heard the sound of books closing, desks banging, chairs scraping, and the classroom emptying out, but she still could not move, until she once again felt the presence of someone standing next to her.
"Shari." It was her teacher. "Shari! Pick your head up. I want to talk to you."
Very slowly, Shari raised her head. The teacher was shocked at the despair she read in her student's eyes.
"It's the end of the world for you, isn't it?"
Shari nodded sadly.
"Is there anything I can say to you that would convince you otherwise? That it's perfectly normal to make mistakes? If you didn't, you wouldn't be human. You'd have no heart, no soul, and no feelings. You wouldn't be you anymore."
"You could say it, but it won't change the way I feel," said Shari. "I'm a failure. I'd be happy not to be human as long as I get 100 on my tests! In fact I kind of wish I was a computer - that always knows the answer and always gets it right."
"But Shari, 98 is a great grade ... hey, wait a second..."
The teacher, who had been glancing at the test paper, was shaking her head and smiling. "This isn't correct. For some reason, two of your answers got reversed on the printout. This answer," she pointed to question number 18, "is actually correct! You did get a 100%."
"Really?" Shari perked up.
"Really! You see? Even computers make mistakes!"
"And you see, that means I didn't. Yeah!" Shari chirped with relief. Feeling 'perfectly' happy, she got up to leave.
"Whoa, hold on a second, Shari." The teacher said, "Now I made a mistake!"
"Yeah, look here - because the answers switched, even though now your number 18 is right, number 19 is now wrong! So, you still have a 98 - sorry!"
Shari glanced at the test, sat stunned for a moment, then started to laugh. "Okay, okay! I give up. Nobody's perfect, not computers, not teachers ... and not even me. And ... I guess maybe nobody has to be perfect either. But, tell me something," Shari said, with a twinkle in her eye, "since the computer also made a mistake, maybe we should try to cheer it up too! It must be feeling terrible!"
The two burst into laughter again. Suddenly, 98% didn't look nearly as bad as it had a few moments before.
Q. How did Shari feel when she first got her test back?
A. She was upset because she didn't get a perfect score.
Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. She realized that everyone makes mistakes and it's okay.
Q. What life lesson do you think Shari learned from what happened?
A. She had felt that if she wasn't perfect, she wasn't a good person. The experience with the test and the way the teacher handled it showed her that nobody's perfect, and that is - perfectly - okay.
Q. Do you think there is such a thing as a perfect person?
A. Some people seem pretty perfect - but there is no one, and has never been anyone 100% perfect in every way. Only God is perfect. So if we feel that we're less than perfect in some way, we should know we are in with good company - the rest of humanity!
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Is there anything wrong with wanting to be perfect?
A. It depends - if this feeling is a 'striving' and a springboard to help us constantly grow and try to improve ourselves, it is a positive thing. If however, it is an 'expectation' which causes us to feel tension and make us come down on ourselves for every little setback, it should be avoided.
Q. Why do you think God made the world - and people - in a less than perfect state?
A. Life is about self-improvement. That means using our free will to make ourselves and the world the best we and it can be. This is a primary way of growing spiritually and coming closer to God. God could have made us perfect, but then we would have been almost like robots and would have lost out on this most valuable soul-building activities.