Enemy of Good: Perfect

Deuteronomy Hizkuni: Devarim

Enemy of Good: Perfect

“The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Voltaire

Early in my engineering career I learned the truth of the above refrain and quickly disassociated from perfectionists. With deadlines, with budget constraints, with overworked staff there wasn’t the time or the resources to reach idealized goals. We needed to get the job done, we needed to do it well and if we pushed hard we could do it on time and within budget.

Perfectionists, usually those with an accounting or pure science background, were dangerous for our projects. They would insist on completing some inconsequential element to the highest standards. Those people often ended up in a different line of work.

Moses had an engineering approach to management. He was a realist (when he wasn’t working miracles). He worked with the resources at hand to reach achievable results.

When Jethro gives Moses advice about choosing judges, the Rabbis enumerate seven different qualities that he asks for (wise, knowledgeable, insightful, brave, God-fearing, honest, bribe-hater).

Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) notes that when Moses lists the qualities of the judges he eventually picked, they do not have all the attributes (Deuteronomy 1:15).

Hizkuni explains that Moses was a pragmatist. He could not find the ideal candidates. He could not reach perfection in his judicial system. He took the best people he could find and put them on the job. It was good enough. If he would have reached for perfection he would have failed.

May we aim for perfection but understand when to settle for good enough.

Shabbat Shalom,



In Memory of Rabbi Yehuda Amital, the Founder and Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion. His institution, vision, personality and determination are responsible for much that is good in my life. He was a great pragmatist, yet kept his ideals. While including all the qualities of the ideal judge, he reached incredible achievements to the benefit of all of Israel.

Link to some of his important essays: http://vbm-torah.org/rya-articles.htm.

Link to his biography and books: http://www.vbm-torah.org/rya.htm.

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