Skip to main content

Wash Your Hands

As we near the High Holidays and approach this period of introspection and repentance, I offer this prayer:
Let us cast away the sin of deception, so that we will mislead no one in word or deed, nor pretend to be what we are not.
Let us cast away the sin of vain ambition which prompts us to strive for goals which bring neither true fulfillment nor genuine contentment.
Let us cast away the sin of stubbornness, so that we will neither persist in foolish habits nor fail to acknowledge our will to change.
Let us cast away the sin of envy, so that we will neither be consumed by desire for what we lack nor grow unmindful of the blessings which are already ours.
Let us cast away the sin of selfishness, which keeps us from enriching our lives through wider concerns, and greater sharing, and from reaching out in love to other human beings.
Let us cast away the sin of indifference, so that we may be sensitive to the sufferings of others and responsive to the needs of our people everywhere.
Let us cast away the sin of pride and arrogance, so that we can worship God and serve God’s purposes in humility and truth. (Mahzor Hadash: The New Mahzor for Rosh Hashanah)
Judaism counsels us that actions and deeds define our lives. Good intentions do not redeem bad deeds. Whereas bad intentions are dissolved by good deeds. Thus, we can only correct our wrong actions. We can only repair misdeeds.

How many times do we instead discuss and debate intentions? Our tradition’s counsel is that they are secondary to actions. Only deeds can be judged. If a person does good, then he or she is deemed righteous. Intentions are known by God alone. What a person holds in his or her heart is the purview of the divine. It is not the province of human beings.

The High Holidays are devoted to repairing and correcting our actions. We spend these days focusing on what we might do different, not what we might intend. We resolve to cast away our wrongs and repair our lives. These days are about our hands more than our hearts.

The Torah declares: “Hidden acts concern the Lord our God; but revealed acts, it is for us and our children ever to apply all the words of this Torah.” (Deuteronomy 29)