I had intended...
Wait. Let me start again, this time in the present tense. I intend...
Ugh. I have no idea what I intend, what I had intended, what I will have intended.
What I know is that I love the English pluperfect tense: past, present and future, all rolled into one. I am a grammar wonk of the highest order. Even more than the English pluperfect, I love that, in Hebrew, we consider not necessarily past, present or future, but perfected versus not perfected. Action over time, complete versus intended.
The holiness of completion and the grammar of intention.
They are intricately-- intimately-- connected, by time, by action, by desire. It is not enough to want. It is not enough, even, to do. The rabbis tell us that in order to satisfy a mitzvah, I must have intended to do so. I must consciously perform the act or the action or task or I will not have satisfied the commandment.
I strive for completion, for the mindfulness of my intention. I intend to fully engage, in my Judaism, in my continued and continuing conversation with God, in finding a path to wholeness that shelters me and the world entire.
My actions mostly support this. Sigh. My intention, though, can be-- incomplete. I am subject to the laws of unintended consequences. My grammar can be faulty in this. I am less than holy, though I am human; no more, no less. I have hurt others, through my thoughtlessness. I have been unkind in my haste. I am unforgiving in my passion and self-righteousness. I am cruel in my fear. I am cynical in my doubt. I do not intend to be these things. My intentions are (mostly) good. Please God, don't let me be misunderstood-- least of all, by me.
One of my favorite of the midrash is one of creation. There are ten things, the rabbis tell us (except when there are seven) (or thereabouts; depends on the text, the rabbi, and the midrash) (because the rabbis can spin many plates at the same time, and there is always room for one more)-- there are ten things that were created before God ever created the world. Depending upon where your finger lands in the text, these included the rainbow, and the burning bush and the ram's horn. Some include things like manna or Miriam's well that sustained us in the desert. The greatest of these, though, to my mind, is the creation-before-creation (don;t get me started on the grammar of that, or its tense!) of t'shuvah.
How awesome is God! How great is the Creator of All, to know that there would be a disconnect between intent and result? How breathtakingly, achingly divine, to understand that before creating the heavens and earth, we humans needed to have a path back, a way to return? We will sin, we will fall short, but we will not be abandoned. The gates of t'shuvah will always be open for us, whenever we approach them, whenever we get up the courage to walk through.
Be holy, we are told, because God is holy, and we are made b'tzelem elohim: in the image of God. But we are human, and so, for all our mindfulness, for all our drive towards completion and wholeness, we will fall short. We will hurt the people we love, we will be indifferent to the needs of others, we will turn away the stranger in our midst. even when we intend otherwise.
Just as God intends for us to find the way back, to return, to stand, once again at the Gates that are thrown wide (or openned only a small crack)-- we will find forgiveness, we will find God, we will find each other, ever and always, there at the Gates. And in the very instant that we step through, in that breath, that heartbeat, that intention-- there is neither past, nor present nor future. There is only wholeness.
The holiness of completion, the grammar of intention.
Stacey Zisook Robinson
Stacey Zisook Robinson