This past weekend we finally, FINALLY showed my son Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. We had waited until after his birthday, as it's a pretty scary film (what with the whole torture scenes, man-eating snow monsters and Luke having his hand chopped off), but it was wonderful to share the film with him finally.
It was especially instructive a few days later as I was trying to teach him how to ride his bike.
He's been resisting for a while. My son is a perfectionist, and he wants to do it right the first time out the gate, every time. If he can't do something perfectly, he doesn't want to do it at all, and that has been true for riding his bike without training wheels. Nothing seemed to work, including my father teaching him, cajoling, or buying him a new bicycle. In fact, when he's sure he can't do something, he digs his heels in and tries to PROVE IT, going out of his way to not even try. I was ready to give up as well. But I didn't. I looked online for resources, gathered my patience, tried some new techniques (including putting him on his smaller 'loaner' bike and having him just coast down the driveway), and turning his moments of frustration and disappointment into fun (when he'd stomp off exasperated I'd chase him and turn it into a game of tag).
We tried again on Monday, and wouldn't you know it? After about a half hour, he was riding his bike. The smile on his face as he realized he could really do it.
Then he fell. Not hard; he landed on his feet, and I saw on his face that he was ready to give up again, when I quoted the scene from Empire to him. It took a few minutes, but he got back on and, wobbly, rode back up the hill to our driveway.
So what does this have to do with Elul, or Rosh Hashanah, or with anything worthwhile?
There are a lot of voices in the world telling us that we CAN'T. That there's nothing to be done for the brokenness in our World, for the antisemitism and bigotry we see sweeping the globe, for pollution and Climate Change, for the spread of disease, for Israel, for Gazan children, for anything. We are told that if we can't do it exactly right, we shouldn't bother doing it at all.
None of those voices are Jewish voices (at least, not authentically Jewish voices). We can, we must. We may make mistakes. We may do it 'wrong'. We may fail. But if we don't try, then it will be true, as true as if it were a decree from heaven above.
Sefer HaChinuch quotes the Talmud to say that "the Sages taught that four things tear up the decree of judgment against a man: charity, outcry, a change of name, and a change of one's actions...and he should make all his ways worthy." All of these require effort, real effort. All of these require imagination. All of these require us to silence the voices that tell us that we can't, we oughtn't, we shouldn't. All of these lead to Salvation for our world, but only if we put ourselves forward, like we're riding a bike.