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Embrace Your Imperfections

Thanksgiving, Chanukah and the holiday season present us with ample opportunities to get together with family, friends and coworkers. What starts as a fairly pleasant event can sometimes take an unfortunate turn as the host, not content with mere wining and dining, decides to add a more serious dimension to the party.  The ominous clinking sound of metal on glass leaves no doubt as to what’s coming next. As the cacophony of the irritating sound slowly dissipates and everyone directs their gazes to the host, she politely commands the participants to rest their forks and knives on the table, and share with the rest of the guests “something they are grateful for”. This is one of the rare occasions in which you really want to go early before the easy ones (family, friends, health and good food) are all taken. Being a veteran holiday partygoer, you tactically locate yourself in the second seat to the right of the host. You never want to speak just after the host; it’s a lose-lose situation. If you say something brilliant, you outshine the host, acting discourteously. If you go down the trivial path, you may end up with the mercy cheers, but being the third – you are safe. As the host raises her glass, you give a look full of pity to the person next to her, you wear your “I survived another year” smile and you mentally put the finishing touches to your comments. The gracious host raises her glass and predictably expresses her gratitude “for the wonderful opportunity to celebrating this occasion with all the delightful people around the table”. Definitely unoriginal, yet people who were just called “delightful” must live up to their newly given attribute, as they all enthusiastically cheer and take a sip from their wine glass. When the room gets quiet again, the host continues, “This year, let’s spice things up a little, and start with you John, on my left” (you always had a feeling she hated you, but now you know that for sure).  

You are in a complete panic mode. Twenty-two people are going to speak before you. You will sink to new depths of banality. Everything that comes to your mind sounds less intelligent than the least intelligent lines of Homer Simpson. You can be neither funny nor thoughtful. With a completely paralyzed brain, your bladder comes to the rescue - of course, the bathroom! If you will just go now and return after the speeches are over, you may be able to save some of your dignity; how come you didn’t think about that earlier? You didn’t, but six others did. The end of the line to the bathroom backs up to the dining room by now with no place to hide.  

I am not trying to make light of the importance of showing gratitude. On the contrary, giving thanks is at the heart of Judaism, and one of the key elements for a life of contentment and happiness. Our natural inclination is to be thankful for our strengths, but at times I find it more rewarding to recognize and own my weaknesses. The poem below is a great reminder of our imperfections. Feel free to use this poem or preferably, your own personal version of it, at your next holiday gathering, and embrace your own imperfections. 

The Cookie Thief by Valerie Cox 

A woman was waiting at an airport one night, 
With several long hours before her flight. 
She hunted for a book in the airport shops, 
Bought a bag of cookies and found a place to drop. 
She was engrossed in her book but happened to see, That the man sitting beside her, as bold as could be. Grabbed a cookie or two from the bag in between, Which she tried to ignore to avoid a scene. 
So she munched the cookies and watched the clock, 
As the gutsy cookie thief diminished her stock. 
She was getting more irritated as the minutes ticked by, Thinking, "If I wasn't so nice, I would blacken his eye." 
With each cookie she took, he took one too, 
When only one was left, she wondered what he would do. With a smile on his face, and a nervous laugh, 
He took the last cookie and broke it in half. 

He offered her half, as he ate the other, 
She snatched it from him and thought... oooh, brother. This guy has some nerve and he's also rude, 
Why he didn't even show any gratitude! 
She had never known when she had been so galled, And sighed with relief when her flight was called. 
She gathered her belongings and headed to the gate, Refusing to look back at the thieving ingrate. 
She boarded the plane, and sank in her seat, 
Then she sought her book, which was almost complete. As she reached in her baggage, she gasped with surprise, There was her bag of cookies, in front of her eyes. 
“If mine are here,” she moaned in despair, 
“The others were his, and he tried to share.”     
Too late to apologize, she realized with grief, 
That she was the rude one, the ingrate, the thief. 

Rabbi Alon Levkovitz

Fri, December 4 2020 18 Kislev 5781