The yearning for perfection is a spiritual quality that indicates a high level of evolution in a soul. It is the expression of a refined sense of harmony and beauty, and the manifestation of a strongly developed spiritual will.
When this desire for perfection is applied to worldly matters, we find a person who is tireless in their pursuit of the “rightness” of every act and every thing that they create. When this same principle is applied to the spiritual life, we find a person who is one pointedly directed towards God. And sometime we discover an individual that expresses both these qualities at once.
We get a glimpse of such a personality in this portrayal of Sri Ramana Maharshi by Arthur Osborne, one of his longtime devotees:
“His manner was natural and free from all constraint and the newcomer immediately felt at his ease with him. His conversation was full of humor and his laughter so infectious, so like that of a child that even those who did not understand the language would join in.
“Everything about him and about the Ashram was clean and tidy. When a regular Ashram had been established, life in it followed a timetable as exact as work in an office: The clocks were kept right to the minute, the calendars were up-to-date. And nothing was wasted. I have seen an attendant reproved for bringing out a new sheet of paper to bind a book when one already cut into could be made to do. And with food too: not a grain of rice remained on his leaf-plate when he finished eating. Vegetable peelings were saved for the cattle, not thrown away.
“There was a spontaneous simplicity and humility about him. One of the few things that aroused a show of anger in him was if those who were serving food gave more of any delicacy to him than to others. He did not like people to rise when he entered the hall but would make a little gesture to them to remain seated.
“He was walking slowly down the hillside to the Ashram one afternoon, tall, golden-hued, white haired already and frail, stooping a little and leaning heavily on a staff on account of rheumatism, with him a short, dark attendant. A devotee was coming behind so he drew to the side of the path, saying, ‘You are younger and walk quicker; you go first.’ A little courteous action, but so much from Master to disciple. One could go on endlessly.” 
This capacity for perfection in both the spiritual and the physical realm is the hallmark of a realized soul. It is a quality that is based upon a balanced and still mind. It produces an extraordinary faculty for clear perception, sharpens the powers of the mind and the intuition, and heightens one’s conscious awareness of every thought, word and deed.
The person with a balanced and still mind remains as an observer or witness – he watches all that goes on around him, while taking in none of the emotion or “turbulence.” He sees the perfection behind the outer turmoil – the presence of the Self behind the external personality traits. He looks to discover the perfection that is buried deep within each person or object, and then strives to bring it to the fore.
This is the reason for his or her appearance in the world: to awaken others to awareness of their own Divine nature and to help them manifest that unique Divine nature on the physical plane. This is the effect of an encounter with a realized soul – he or she reveals to us that perfection can be achieved, and awakens the desire for perfection in our own heart.
There is a famous passage in the Talmud Brachot 35B that says: “many tried to live like Shimon Bar Yochai but did not succeed.” This passage refers to the fact that according to the tradition, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai lived for many years in a cave, while God provided for all of his needs. It is seen as a warning to all spiritual seekers that they should not assume that they too are on such a level.
In his comments on this passage, the Baal Shem asks: if the individuals that can reach the highest are few and far between, then why did God command all of Israel to be holy? As it says in the Torah, “You shall be holy; for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2)
The Baal Shem answers that God commands us to be holy because He wants us all to strive for the highest holiness and perfection, even if we cannot attain it. That way, we will fulfill our maximum potential in this life. But if we begin by accepting that we cannot reach the highest, then we will automatically lower our expectations and aspirations, and then, even that which we can accomplish will not be fulfilled.
The Baal Shem also points out that the command to be holy is given in the future tense. Whatever efforts we make in this life will form the foundation for our future spiritual growth – the spiritual “background” that we carry on with us into other incarnations and other lives. Though perfection may seem an impossible goal to us now, one day we will all become perfect.
There is a midrash that tells of an encounter that took place between Rabbi Akiva and a Roman general named Tornosrophos.
In this encounter, Tornosrophos challenges the Jewish practice of circumcision as an act that mars the beauty of a Divine creation. In response, Rabbi Akiva brings Tornosrophos first a sheave of wheat in one hand and some freshly baked cakes in another, and then a handful of flax together with a beautiful linen garment.
Through this act, Rabbi Akiva is trying to tell Tornosrophos that the Jewish people look at this world in a completely different way. We do not see this world as perfect. On the contrary, we are painfully aware of its numerous imperfections and flaws. However, we believe that God has left this world imperfect for a reason, so that we may have the opportunity to bring the world to perfection through the combined efforts of the whole human race.
In fact, this work of tikkun or perfection is a central tenet of our view of the nature of life and the purpose of existence. We see the human yearning for perfection as part of a greater Divine yearning that lies at the back of all of creation. It is this Divine impulse to create and perfect that impels all of creation forward. It is the force that lies at the heart of the evolutionary process – from the evolution of a single-celled amoeba into complex life forms, to the evolution of a human being into a God-realized soul.
It is this same force that guides the Sovereign of the World as He/She strives to bring the planet into perfect harmony and attunement with the design of the Universal Will. All is part of the fundamental Divine urge towards perfection. When we strive to be holy – to become whole or perfect in all ways before God, we are aligning ourselves with that Divine urge and touching upon the deepest desire in the Heart of our Lord.
copyright © 2017, by Yoel Glick
- Arthur Osborne, Ramana Maharshi and the Path of Self-Knowledge↵