You know what? Writing 29 essays for Elul is something. I start thinking I’m pretty hot stuff, actually. Then, I go to Shul. It’s Rosh HaShanah – and we’re singing Avinu Malkeynu,(our Father, our King) and I’m saying `ki eyn banu ma-asim’, ‘for we have no deeds’ and again, it hits me that I have no real deeds to bring from this year. The things I did are so minor – so small. It’s not the realization of sin that hits me – I’ve been working with sin all month and I know how much I did that I could do better on (tons). No, at Shul, on Rosh HaShanah, it’s the smallness – the flower withering in the grass, the dust speck blowing in the wind – those contents of the other pocket that got me. (You know the Jewish saying involved: Carry two truths in your pockets, “the world is created for me” and “I am but dust and ashes”.)
I work very hard to know as much as I can. I study and practice, I explore and think, I debate and analyse. It’s hard to realize that actually – all my knowledge is that thimbleful compared to the ocean out there. On Rosh HaShanah, that awareness was brought to me, not in a philosophical or intellectual way, but viscerally, immediately, overwhelmingly. I felt the emptiness of my hands as I reached out to God – a whole year of work, and what do I have to show for it? Nothing really. A certificate, some bruises, a few misunderstood words in a foreign language. I can see how much more there was to learn, to do.
There were so many opportunities I missed this year. There were times I surely could have worked a little harder, planned a little better, loved a bit more, focused on God rather than just on me. There were so many times when I could look back and say, “oh, if only I had taken care of that.”
My deeds are not enough to offer. That truth becomes so apparent, so obvious that I can’t hide behind my delusional belief in my own abilities. My abilities were never mine anyways, but gifts from God, so the achievements I have made are only partially mine to claim. So, on Rosh HaShanah, I offer empty hands. I offer broken-ness, and crying, and confusion and lack of answers. I offer what little I did – the certificate of training, the experiences, the mumbled words – even while knowing that it is not, that it cannot be sufficient.
I offer my smallness. “Here I stand, God,” I say, “and my hands are empty before You, and I have nothing better to offer than these empty, open hands.” It is my Avinu Malkeynu prayer. I am always amazed by the fact that despite my smallness, despite hands which remain empty no matter how hard I try to fill them, God continues to put up with me. Year after year, I keep feeling that closeness, that certainty that I am loved. Year after year, God accepts what little I did. Year after year, God takes my empty hands and heart and mind – and God fills them with light.