We have a friend we used to call Mr. Perfect; he was committed to perceiving everything in life as absolutely perfect. He once shared with us that he wakes up every morning and exclaims, "Perfect, perfect, perfect." I thought this a wonderful, if bizarre, way to start to the day, but my wife had a problem with it. He makes perfection seem too easy, she complained, and life's not really like that.

"Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generation, Noah walked with G‑d."1 Though this verse sounds like a ringing endorsement of Noah, our sages hasten to point out that Noah was perfect only "in his generation," i.e., when compared to his own generation; when compared to Abraham, however, he was far from perfect.2

Noah was born into a state of perfectionThis seems curious when we consider that it was only at the age of 99 that Abraham was summoned to perfection: "And Abram was ninety-nine years old, and G‑d appeared to Abram, and He said to him, 'I am the Almighty G‑d; walk before Me and be perfect.'"3 How do we explain that for a full 99 years of his life Abraham was not perfect, yet Noah, who was perfect all along, did not compare to Abraham?

Born To Perfection

The perfection to which Abraham was summoned was that of circumcision4, as the verse that follows says, "And I will place My covenant between Me and between you..." Our sages taught that the male body is created imperfectly. Imperfection can take the form of an extraneous part; for example, a hand with six fingers is imperfect. The male body, created with a foreskin that G‑d asks us to remove, is imperfect. G‑d creates men with this imperfection to enable them to take part in perfecting themselves.

Our sages tell us that Noah was born circumcised.5 This means that Noah was born into a state of perfection. From the cradle to the grave, Noah was destined for perfection. He did not have to work on being perfect; it came to him naturally. But in a sense, Noah was a spiritual cripple, for there was not a spiritual accomplishment that he achieved by his own hand.

Abraham, on the other hand, was a self-made man. Born to idolatrous parents who raised him without G‑d, Abraham grappled with his faith until he discovered the existence of G‑d. What was effortless and facile for Noah was an arduous climb for Abraham. It took him 99 years to reach the plateau of perfection.

G‑d beckoned Abraham to perfection saying, "Walk before me and become perfect." Of Noah it is written, "Noah was perfect; he walked with G‑d." Abraham walked before G‑d and then became perfect. Noah walked with G‑d because he was already perfect; had he not been perfect he would never have undertaken, let alone endured, the hazardous climb.

Our sages were thus correct to point out that Noah was only perfect when compared to his own generation. Perfection that is not earned, prominence into which one is born, is not noteworthy. Prominence gained by one who was born in the gutter, clawed his way out of the hole and worked his way to greatness is of true note. Those born virtuous can only gain prominence when compared to the wicked and immoral, but they pale in comparison compared to those who have earned their virtue.

Don't Wait For Perfection

Abraham was not obsessed with personal perfection; he was devoted to G‑dThis reflection leads us to yet another consideration. Noah spent his entire life preoccupied with his own perfection. Noah walked with G‑d, but he did so only because that is what perfect people do. Abraham did not walk before G‑d because he wanted to be perfect; he walked before G‑d because it is the right thing to do. He was not obsessed with personal perfection; he was devoted to G‑d. And that is how and why he was ultimately summoned to perfection.

Noah received the prophecy about the impending flood and proceeded to build an ark. Noah ensured his own survival, then that of his family, and finally, the survival of the eco-system in which he would survive post-flood. He did not work to prevent the flood by exhorting his contemporaries to repent; that was not Noah's way. He was obsessed with his own perfection, not with others'.

Abraham stood up to G‑d on behalf of sinners when he was told that the people of Sodom would be destroyed. Abraham did not mind that such strong questioning of G‑d might adversely impact his quest for perfection; his personal status was furthest from his mind. All he thought of was the plight of others, even the plight of sinners; because this was the right thing to do.6


Don't delay doing the right thing because you are not perfect. Buy flowers for your wife even if you are not a romantic at heart. Help out around the house even if you are not yet a fully domesticated husband. Prepare your children's breakfast even if you are not yet an accomplished chef. Judaism is more about action than it is about perfection. Be more like Abraham and less like Noah.

When an opportunity comes up to perform a mitzvah don't put it off because you may be otherwise non-religious. You don't have to be perfect to do what is right. Abraham was not perfect but this did not prevent him from walking before G‑d; when the opportunity to do a mitzvah came up, Abraham jumped right in. His is an example we can learn from.

For in truth, doing what is right is already perfect. It might be a tiny little bit of perfect, but remember that Abraham ultimately gained perfection through a lifetime of these little steps. We too can gain perfection, but only if we take those little steps.

Besides, if we wait for perfection before taking our first step we might be in for a long wait.7