Is Striving for Perfection an Exercise in Futility?
Taste of Parasha
Practice makes perfect; but, if no one is perfect, why practice? Happiness comes from completion; but, since man’s work is never done is man never happy? The Jewish nation reached the pinnacle of closeness to G-d but then faltered. Does that mean it was all for naught? Rav Yerucham Levovits Zt”l describes the sin of the golden calf as an example of the kabbalistic idea termed, “kotzets b’nitios.” He explains this term to mean attributing the source of matter, events or actions to something other than the true source. Literally it means to chop down a sapling. One who chops down a sapling in mid-growth has stunted its potential. A person is like a tree; the sky is the limit. Each year he can grow a step closer to maturity and perfection and along the way enjoy many majestic vistas. Does this mean he is able to be as perfect as G-d? No. Does this mean that each new plateau affords yet another breathtaking vista? Yes! According to Rav Yerucham, the lesson of the golden calf is: Do not truncate your spiritual growth and do not take a cheap alternative to the real source. Keep focused on G-d who is the source of all and you will reach a modicum of perfection and happiness.
Taste of Talmud
On the fruit of the tree one makes the blessing, “Borei Pri Haetz, except for wine. On wine, the blessing of Borei Pri Hagafen is recited. (Berachos 35a) Rashi comments: It is due to its importance that our sages instituted a distinct blessing for it; and, so it is with bread. The Ritva uses a somewhat different wording to explain the difference between wine and grapes. The Ritva says it is because it went up a notch through this change. Then the Ritva adds: If one made the blessing of Borei Pri Haetz prior to drinking wine, the blessing is valid. It would seem to me that according to Rashi, the blessing would not be valid. Rashi compares wine to bread in its level of distinction. Just as if one were to make the blessing of Borei Pri Ha’adama on a piece of bread it would not work because bread is so far removed from that source because of its importance, so too would wine thus inappropriately be deemed the fruit of the tree (pri haetz). A close look at Tosafos ibid. (12a) will yield such an opinion.
Taste of Halacha
On 12a of Tractate Berachos, Tosafos asserts that one who erred by reciting a borei pri haetz upon a cup of wine must recite a new blessing unless he corrected himself immediately. Rabbi Akiva Eiger asks on these words, “I am astounded. The wording of the blessing for wine attributes it to being from the vine, ‘borei Pri Hagafen.’ If so, it should follow that it too is a fruit of the grape vine and the blessing of borei pri haetz is a proper blessing for wine in an ex post facto situation. Rabbi Akiva Eiger asserts that even though the Magen Avraham (OC 208:22) sides in favor of Tosafos (and Rashi), it is his opinion that the Halacha should be that one does fulfill his obligation by reciting borei pri haetz on a cup of wine. To bolster his opinion he quotes the words of the Ginas Veradim (OC: 29) who also follows the opinion of the Ritva that the blessing is valid. The Mishna Berurah quotes both of these opinions and concludes with the famous dictum: When there is a doubt in matters of Berachos we are lenient – so a new blessing would not be said.