What do the rose, the grizzly bear and the robin all have in common with a human being? Like every living thing, they grow towards maturation and perfection.

The rose emerges from under the winter ground in all its glory growing into its full pedaled beauty. The grizzly surviving the challenges of the wilderness grows to his full stature and power as a force of nature. The robin, nurtured by a loving mother grows and one day discovers her voice and sings her own sweet song. And a human being, like the rose, the grizzly, and the robin, contains within his soul the seeds of a unique and beautiful perfection and can grow towards his unique state of maturity.

But unlike other living things, the human being’s growth process towards perfection is not automatic or a given. The rose, the grizzly, the robin all grow towards their unique beauty and completeness without choice. Their perfection is inherent in their nature. If they can withstand the challenges of their environment and receive from their environment the nourishment they need, they will naturally reach maturation and completeness. The human being is unique in all of nature because a person only grows towards her unique perfection through choice and effort. The human being is the only living thing privileged to be involved in the exquisite experience of self-creation!

What does such a perfected human being look like? What is the goal of self-creation? We know what a rose at maturation looks like, but can we envision a human being in its perfected state? A perfected human being is one who has refined the whole range of character traits: courage, wisdom, kindness, patience, discipline, joy, happiness, empathy, compassion, strength, simplicity, depth, love, goodness, holiness, etc. Human maturation is about refinement of character.

Perhaps there exists no one individual who is such a model of complete refinement, but we can glimpse what such a person might look like by observing individuals who have embodied a specific character trait, such as the profound wisdom of Solomon; the courage of the Israeli soldiers who put their lives on the line in Entebbe; the deep compassion and kindness of Abraham; the athletic beauty of a Nureyev, the inner strength of Isaac; the artistic talent of a Rembrandt; the patience of Hillel; the self-discipline of a gold medal gymnast, or the humility of Moses. There is a mystical tradition that maintains that there exists a perfected “Adam” (“person,” in Hebrew) who is a composite of every good character trait. It is this virtual Adam that allows us to envision the human being’s potential for greatness.

The purpose of life is to become the best version of ourselves through the creative process of refining one character trait at a time. The project of character refinement is the most demanding and challenging task in the world. It is a well-known adage that it is easier to learn and know in depth all 2711 pages of Talmud than to refine one character trait. The rose is indeed beautiful as a pre-engineered work of nature, but a human being, who by choice and effort refines his or her character, is the most awesome phenomenon in the universe.

What character trait are you presently refining? There are three steps for refining a character trait:

  1. Pick a specific trait to focus on, such as patience, positive speech, generosity, self-control, joy, etc.
  2. Define it and envision what you would look like if you embodied this trait.
  3. Do a daily exercise to practice and grow in the trait in order to embody it.