Posted by: R Jonathan Gewirtz | January 4, 2019

What’s Wrong with This Picture?

Perhaps at some point you were a kid reading a magazine and you found a fun page. There were riddles and jokes, maybe a word find puzzle, and sometimes they had a picture with a special challenge. “What’s wrong with this picture?” they would ask, and you’d have to find five or ten things that were unusual or out of the ordinary.

It could be that the table in the picture had only three legs and a rubber chicken. Maybe the orchestra conductor was wearing a tuxedo and swim flippers, or the woman with the dog on a leash was walking an actual hot dog in a bun!

Your eye was trained to find what was out of the ordinary and shouldn’t be there. The more you played the game, the more attuned you became to details and the faster you could ferret out the mistakes. And that’s a shame. Not because you wouldn’t enjoy the game as much, but precisely because you built up a love of finding something wrong.

Perfection is a fallacy. No person is perfect, and no situation is “perfect” at least insofar as the way we’d like things to work out. The Ribono Shel Olam is the only one capable of creating perfection and the way He does often leaves us scratching our heads at how many things seem to have gone wrong. 
When we look at a picture and expect everything to be just right, if it is that way, then it’s not a picture of the real world. 

The real world has challenges and jagged edges. It has square pegs and round holes. It has dead ends and staircases to nowhere. But that’s OK. 

Our mission in life is not to find out what’s wrong around us. On the contrary, it is quite easy to find what we think is “wrong.” The hard part is noticing the things that are so right, even when they might seem out of place or unexpected. 

Imagine you were stationed at a college campus where there were some Jewish kids who had no idea what a Shabbos was. They’d never seen Tefillen or a lulav. You got them to come to you for some cholent and one of them came to you the next day and said, “I’d like to try on those black boxes once. It would be an experience.” You’d be overjoyed because a fellow Jew would be doing a mitzvah. 

It might be only one time, but it will add a spot of holiness to a life otherwise unconnected to HaShem or our heritage. It would be a bright spot in your career and you’d feel immense pleasure in it and love for this holy neshama who took this small step. 

And yet, if we see a Jew who puts on Tefillen every day, and keeps Shabbos and eats kosher, but he doesn’t look or practice just like we do, we are often quick to write him off. Why is that?

The answer is that we’re asking, “What’s wrong with this picture?” Since so much looks the way we think it should, what stands out are the differences. We see what the other person is not doing the way we think it should be because we’re trying to get a perfect picture. 

When it comes to the person who does nothing Jewish, the perfection of their non-observance is what we question and we’re able to find the exceptions. In truth, as Jews this is part of our culture. For example, though it may be sunset, as long as there’s any light, it’s still Shabbos. We hold onto the holiness of the day so long as there’s a glimmer of the day remaining. In the morning, we can begin our avodas HaShem before sunrise as long as the first hints of light are visible. 

We’re not looking for what’s wrong, but for what’s right. 

I recall the true story of a fishing boat in the Caribbean that capsized. The ship’s cook was below deck and was trapped as the boat sank. When the salvage teams went to the boat a few days later, they found the cook alive!

The ship sank so fast that a small pocket of air was trapped in the room where the cook was sleeping. He was in water up to his ears but he managed to breathe and stay alive as long as that air lasted. It was enough to save his life. Most of us would look at the room and think survival was impossible. The ship was full of water and at the bottom of the sea! But the little bit of space that wasn’t flooded was enough.

As a last example, how often have we looked at our spouses or children and noted all the things they weren’t?

They aren’t neat; they aren’t sweet; they don’t have hair, or they don’t care.

Maybe our child rebels a bit, and we’re at the end of our ropes. They don’t live up to our dreams, they don’t fulfill our hopes.

But is there nothing at all of which we are proud? Nothing that sets them apart from the crowd?

Perhaps they have something, perhaps could it be? That there’s something that makes you want to say, “He belongs to me!”?

When you look at a picture and all you see is what’s wrong, remember the cook in the sinking ship and focus on what you have instead of what you don’t. Your life, or the life of someone else, may very well depend on it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: