It is it action or intention? I suppose it depends on the circumstance. Often we hear, “I tried really hard” and that counts for something. Teddy Roosevelt wrote in 1900: “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed. In this life we get nothing save by effort.”
We praise hard work as Americans, as Jews. But we also cherish success. The intention behind our actions is vital as a moral victory, but it is our actions – and even our results – that ultimately define us.
In one of my all-time favorite movies, Tootsie, Dustin Hoffman’s character is full of intensity and focus. Early in the movie, he argues with his agent about his fantastic work in various shows including his role in a commercial as a tomato:
“I was a stand-up tomato: a juicy, sexy, beefsteak tomato. Nobody does vegetables like me. I did an evening of vegetables off-Broadway. I did the best tomato, the best cucumber… I did an endive salad that knocked the critics on their ass.”
Essentially he is a drive, self-important jerk. And this is partially because he is unsuccessful. (He is also unsuccessful because he is a jerk). But success changes everything. Our drive now mutes, or at least dulls, our flaws as quirks and idiosyncrasies. As he succeeds in the film, masquerading as Dorothy Michaels, a female daytime soap star, he is seen as a true actor. His personality flaws that previously ostracized him are now overlooked, forgiven, or, at least, tolerated.
Elul is a time to start with our focus, our goal. But it’s not enough. We have the best of intentions day after day and never accomplish a thing. In fact, most people working on changing their life are full of well meaning…and accomplish nothing.
The goals and the heart are wonderful. The results are vital too.
In the wonderful Apollo 13, the three astronauts trapped in space debate what next to. Jim Lovell, played by Tom Hanks, turns to them asks: “Gentlemen, what are you intentions?” We know what all of the want, Lovell now gets them to make it happen and tells them, “I’d like to go home.” Wanting it is a required beginning and sometimes all we can achieve. Start with that. But don’t rest there. Elul pushes us to do more and actually make it happen. Even become a cross-dressing daytime television soap star.
#BlogElul is the brainchild of @imabima who blogs at imabima.blogspot.com. For the 30 days of Elul, the spiritual preparation before the Jewish High Holy Days, many Jews will be reflecting on the themes of the season. My posts will all be through the lens of movies. You can see all the themes in the first post of the series. You can follow all the other excellent postings through Twitter at #BlogElul along with related items #Elulgram and #PopCultureElul.