On Rosh Hashanah It is Written, On Yom Kippur It is Sealed

I offer this prayer for us all at the time of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.

On Rosh HaShanah it is written, on Yom Kippur it is sealed:

That this year people will live and die,

some more gently than others

and nothing lives forever.

But amidst overwhelming forces

of nature and humankind,

we still write our own Book of Life,

and our actions are the words in it,

and the stages of our lives are the chapters,

and nothing goes unrecorded, ever.

Every deed counts.                

Everything you do matters.

And we never know what act or word

will leave an impression or tip the scale.

So, if not now, then when?

For the things we can change, there is t’shuvah, realignment,

For the things we cannot change, there is t’filah, prayer,

For the help we can give, there is tzedakah, justice.

Together, let us write a beautiful Book of Life

for the Holy One to read.

Note: This piece is based upon a Jewish prayer that is said in synagogue at this time of year is called Unetaneh Tokef. It speaks of “who will live, and who will die” in the upcoming year. Read literally, it means that God judges you, and God writes you into the metaphorical Book of Life... or not. However, in the Mishnah (Avot 3:16), the metaphor is that we write a Book of Life with our deeds. The following prayer takes the latter approach. It also includes the metaphor that our actions, both good and bad, are accumulated on a scale, and what we do next can tip the balance (Rosh Hashanah 17b). Finally, Hillel is the originator of the famous phrase, “If not now, then when?” (Avot 1:14). The Hebrew word teshuva is commonly translated as “repentance,” but it literally means to “return” or to “realign” when one has gotten off track. The word tefilah means “prayer,” and the word tzedakah is often understood as “charity” or “philanthropy” but actually has its roots in “doing the right thing,” as in “righteousness” or “justice.”

This post originally appeared on the blog of ReformJudaism.org.

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