The Vilna Gaon, in a small but immensely powerful volume entitled Even Shleima, states that the main function for a person in this world is to perfect his or her character traits. A person who learns the whole Torah, with all the intellectual stimulation involved and theoretical knowledge obtained, but does not perfect his or her character has not achieved this goal.
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto, in his book The Path of the Just, discusses the topic of individual perfection in great detail. In his introduction he laments the fact that so few people, even from the so-called ‘religious’ element, focus themselves on this ideal of serving G-d and perfecting this service.
There are many intelligent people who spend their time on their professions as lawyers, doctors, accountants, astronomers, scientists, and mathematicians. Others spend their time learning Torah: Talmud, Mishnah, Halachah, and Midrash. But few devote their thought and study to the perfection of serving G-d. They think it is so obvious they are doing so, that it does not require thought. Frequently, the idea of perfecting one’s service of G-d has been left to those of limited intelligence, so that when one sees someone engaged in saintly conduct, one cannot help but suspect them of lacking intelligence. The wise lack perfection because they don’t spend enough time pondering it. Those of less intelligence lack perfection because of their limited ability to grasp concepts. The result is people think that perfection is achieved through reading the book of Psalms all day, or engaging in fasting and other kinds of self mortification. The truth is that saintliness is far from that concept.
King Solomon in Proverbs 2:4 says, “If you will seek it as silver and search for it as a treasure, then you will understand the fear of God.”
You know how much time, effort and money the oil companies expend in looking for oil, and how much time, energy and money the mining companies spend looking for precious natural resources. This is how much we should be spending on trying to achieve individual perfection.
Rabbi David Bassous
 Rabbi Elijah of Vilna, sixteenth century child prodigy and leader of Lithuanian Jewry.