In an interview a decade or so ago Marlon Brando was describing his work ethic. I paraphrase to the best of my memory: “If I feel 100% I give 80%. If I feel 80% I give 60%. If I feel 60% I stay home.”
I wonder what percentage he felt while screaming ‘STELLA’ in Streetcar Named Desire.
We have an opposite example derived from our Torah portion.
Rabbi Meir Shapira, Chassidic Rabbi of Lublin, visited the Chafetz Chayim, a Litvak of the highest order, and asked for a word of Torah. The Chafetz Chayim said he didn’t feel up to it and Shapira said of Deuteronomy 26:3 that we are supposed to go to the Cohen or Priest who serves at the time we bring our first fruits. The authoritative commentator Rashi, assuming this seems redundant (after all, you should go see a Cohen from another time?) says, ‘as he is’ meaning, even if he’s not the best Cohen that ever lived, even if you could do better (i.e wait until there’s a better Cohen to whom to bring the first fruits), you should bring them to the one who’s there when you have first fruits to bring. This took the weight of high exegetical expectations off the Chofetz Chayim’s shoulders and he delivered the requesteddrash.
We all find ourselves in unexpected situations where we need to do the best we can given our circumstances: the sleep we lack, the preparation we’ve procrastinated, the poverty of positive energy we currently bring to the task.
On the other hand, there are times we should heed the Marlon Brando credo. Interacting with people when we are irritable could cause a relationship rupture whereas simply saying, ‘Can we discuss this tomorrow when I’ve got the strength to handle this issue’ might be preferable.
So, God, please
Grant me the knowledge to do the best I can when not feeling up to it.
The insight to put off that which I can’t currently handle.
And the discernment to know the difference.