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Thoughts for the Week

Wednesday, September 8

According to tradition God considers and judges us on Rosh Hashanah and writes our fate in ‘The Book of Life’, that will be sealed on Yom Kippur: ‘On Rosh Hashanah we consider how judgement is formed and on Yom Kippur we shall consider how judgement is sealed’ we read at the beginning of the Erev Rosh Hashanah service last week. This idea is reflected in the traditional greeting ‘chatimah tovah’ (A good seal) with which we greet one another on Yom Kippur.

The idea that God makes a note of all the wrong we do and decrees the length of our lives accordingly is terrifying, and also not quite true! In our experience goodness is not always rewarded with a long life.

The beautiful but somewhat unsettling Unetaneh Tokef hymn, which we find in the mussaf prayer of both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur suggests that ‘repentance, prayer and charity avert the evil of the decree’. At first glance it seems to say that repentance, prayer, and charity performed, particularly at this time of the year, will promise us a longer life, but these too do not guarantee longevity. It merely means, it has been suggested, that those who repent their misdeeds, pray regularly and give to charity will be able to better endure whatever comes to them.

The fact is, we do not know what lies around the corner, or what the New Year will bring. What we do know is that community and times we meet online or in person for prayer and study enhances our spiritual and social lives. We also know that the practice of repentance benefits our inner life and our interpersonal interaction with others, and that contributing to charity improves society and alleviates the suffering of others. May they all bring a chatimah tovah.

Rabbi Kathleen de Magtige-Middleton

September 8, 2021