A recent Bat Mitzvah, Tema Caplan, is quite the athlete and asked me to give a sermon at her ceremony about “goals.” The goal, in athletics, seems to be winning. You want to win the game. Every sport has its goal and winners  have a plan to win.

But let’s talk about goals differently and think about our goals in life.

Think about the life of Abraham. As with all of our lives, there were stages of Abraham’s life. Abraham’s goals changed a few times in his life. For the first part of his life, almost half, he was very successful, but he yearned for something more. When G-d called him, he went, without knowing where he was going or why. But then, when he got to the land of Israel, he had to leave, and his goal was just survival. When he came back to Israel, his goal was to keep his family together. And then as he got older, his goal became to perpetuate his mission by passing it down to the child who would be worthy of the mission.

My point is that you have different goals at different points of your life. So here’s what I want to say to the kids. The teenage years can be like a pressure cooker. You want to do well in school. You want to have friends. Your parents pressure you to do well. Your friends pressure you to act
in a certain way. And on top of all that, you’ve got to deal right now with living inside a bubble and a cohort and figuring out masks and zooming and being in and out of school.

And there are these goals: Get good grades; play a sport or an instrument; join a club.

A couple of Sundays ago, I sat in the parking lot for a class we have for teenagers called Gesher, a very successful program that we have thanks to the hard work and dedication of Rachel Ledewitz Gordon. And we talked about pressure and goals. I asked each of the kids: Do you do something that is just for you? Something that’s not for school or your college record or to please your parents. And I was really happy and gratified that they understood what I was asking. And they each had something. One made collages about movies they liked. Another practiced his guitar. Another made models of bridges. And they had goals, personal goals, for these projects.

I am saying to the kids: You should have your own thing. Especially with the winter that I think we’re going to have and a lot of time at home, you should have something that is your own personal goal, to do something that is just for you, to relieve all that external pressure, all that pressure from the outside.

Now I want to talk to the parents. Since Abraham was the first person to believe in one G-d and since G-d chose him to become the father of many nations, you would think that he must have been perfect or close to it. But he wasn’t. Not even close.

And he never had what is called The Perfection Obsession.

Have you ever heard of the perfection obsession? You might not know the term, but you know what it means.

You know people who have a perfection obsession.

You know who I am talking about:

The person who re-works everything but accomplishes nothing;

The person who is so compulsive about cleaning the home, having no life but the vacuum cleaner and the dishwasher

Who has a lovely living room where no one lives.

Perfectionism will flood over into ever part of your life.

I remember a couple that joyfully discovered, like Abraham and Sarah but a little younger, after years of trying, that they were going to have a baby.

However, they were both perfectionists. They did what a lot of expectant parents have done: they purchased books on how to raise a child.

But they went overboard.

They read every book they could lay their hand on.

They taped the baby experts on the afternoon talk shows, to watch later that evening.

They devoured every DVD suggested to them about child care.

I witnessed this obsession develop and consume all their time. I finally asked them “Why?” Why were they spending each waking minute reading or watching child specialists?

I still remember their answer, “We want to be perfect parents.”

It was sort of funny. They came to me months later, after reading till they were blurry eyed, and listening till their ears bled, and said, “None of these professionals agree on how to raise children. One says be permissive, and another claims you must be the disciplinarian. We are never going to learn how to be perfect parents.”

I just smiled, because they were right. No one is perfect.

Chasing after perfection will devastate you.

A British website had some interesting results from a  survey of parents. The survey showed that 91% of parents constantly feel under the spotlight because of pressure to be the perfect parent. They blame that pressure on the media, and the schools and education campaigns. But despite feeling pressure to be perfect, 80% said they were “pretty” or “very” confident that they were doing a good job., More than half said they spend more quality time with their children than they themselves got in childhood.

It is sad to watch people throw away their lives striving for the illusion of perfection

Here is a definition of a perfectionist:

A Perfectionist is a person who takes extreme pains; while giving pains to others.

So my first goal for the parents is: Banish the perfection obsession.

But I want you to have what I’m asking the kids to have, something just for you. You are facing the upcoming winter, too. And you’re busy being a good parent.

But there has to be something that is just for you.

We say a prayer before every Hebrew month:

May no day pass without bringing us closer to some worthy achievement.

I live every day with that thought.

But among all your other goals and achievements, we also have remember to have a goal that is our own personal goal, our own happy and fulfilling thing.

These goals will change as our lives change. That’s how we live fulfilling lives.

Rabbi Scolnic