At the heart of the Rosh Hashana service is the Unetaneh Tokef prayer, famously known for the phrase: “Who will live and who will die?” Associated with the prayer, there is a certain sense of trembling and fear. We know the only predictability of life’s circumstances is its unpredictability. One can’t help but wonder whether the phrases will directly impact in the year to come.
This year, as I chanted the prayer, I read it differently; not as questions but as challenges. Not who will be troubled but this year, I will seek to lessen the pain of those that feel troubled. Not who by water but this year, I will not ignore those who gasp for air, drowning from pressure and angst. Not who will die but who is having difficulty seeing the purpose in living?
Unetaneh Tokef becomes a prayer constructed like a shofar: An alarm clock, a poem crying out the many ways we are being called.
Perhaps, the missing lines in Unetaneh Tokef are the following: this year, who is listening and who chooses to ignore? In these Yamim Noraim, Days of Awe, may the words of our prayers lift off the pages of the mahzor and embed themselves within our heart.
The message is clear: We are each being called to do God’s work.
Who will listen and who will choose to ignore?
G’mar chatimah tovah: May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life. Amen.
In partnership with The Jewish Journal, you can also find Rabbi Guzik’s blog post HERE.