Even at the age of 90, Morris is amazing with his hands. And he is so loving and thoughtful. Every year just before Hoshana Rabbah, the seventh day of Sukkot, he collects willow branches and bundles them together in fives with palm branches. He prepares enough for everybody who will attend the early morning service to complete the ceremony of Hoshanot with seven circles around the sanctuary and the beating of the willow branches (aravot). In contrast to the willow branches of my lulav, which are badly browning and bent by the seventh day of the holiday, these bunches of willow are fresh green.
I recite the words of the ceremony “Kol M’vaser m’vaser v’omer” (“The voice of the prophet resounds and proclaims … good news of peace and deliverance”) three times, and I whip the floor hard with the willow branches. As this season of repentance comes to a close, I hope to shed the willow leaves that represent the deeds I want to leave behind in the year that was. Much like the breadcrumbs that I tossed onto the flowing waters of Tashlich, hoping they would be carried far away from me, I hope these willow leaves will be carried away by the wind and rain. But the batch that Morris prepares for our service sheds nothing as I beat the floor! The expertly wrapped bunch is beautiful and green and lush and cool to the touch. The leaves cling tightly to the long, thin branches. And I smile. I smile for myself and for all the other people who know that they have done the work that needs to be done in preparation for this season of repentance. We can dance with joy over the next days with confidence in God’s acceptance of the imperfections that cling to us, the broken pieces that we carry with us and make a part of our lives, like the broken tablets of the Ten Commandments carried in the ark along with the unbroken set.
I can smile because I have faith that, with good intentions and deeds shaped by the desire to heal the world around me, God will forgive me for that which I don’t accomplish in my quest. I smile because the perfect willows, despite having no fragrance and bearing no fruit, remind me that I can forgive myself for being the perfectly imperfect human being that I am.
Rabbi Craig Scheff