November 18, 2018

Not the Unetaneh Tokef

Every year on Yom Kippur we recite the Unetaneh Tokef. It is, basically, a list of the ways we might die in the coming year, based on the premise that, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, God decides who is going to die in the coming year, and how. It’s problematic in a number of ways, but, in some ways, it does serve a purpose as well, reminding us that life is fragile, and living through the next year is never guaranteed.

This year on Erev Rosh Hashanah I sat next to my dear friend Patty, who very much wants to live through the next year, and I was inspired to write a parallel prayer, below, which focuses more on the ways we might live.


On Rosh Hashanah it is written,
On Yom Kippur it is sealed
How many will seek joy in this world,
How many will pass it by
Who will live and who will languish
Who will focus on what they have lost,
And who will find ways to celebrate the life they have
Who by old friends
And who by a baby
Who by birdsong
And who by laughter
Who by matzo balls
And who by ice cream sundaes
Who by walking in nature
And who by long car drives
Who by reconnecting
And who by letting go

Who will dwell on the negative
And who will express gratitude
Who will struggle
And who will find peace
Who will be lonely
And who will live with love
Who will retreat from life
And who will embrace it –

And, through turning back toward what we know is right,
prayer, and righteous giving, we can invite God to be our partner in life.

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