My Life as a Book

Just about this time every year we begin to greet each other with those traditional words:  L’shana tova tikatevu!  May you be written for a good year!  Even if these words seem as comfortable, and comforting, to you as your bubbie’s chicken soup, you probably don’t stop to think about their implication very often.  In fact, if you weren’t clued in, you might even think that these words were little more than a perfunctory holiday salutation  like “seasons greetings.” However, this familiar wish at New Year’s time is actually a kind of Jewish code, a spiritual short-hand, hinting at the central metaphor that captures the essence of these High Holy Days.  The underlying meaning is this:  Our days, our lives, our actions, our soul’s journey are somehow recorded, written down and remembered.  This metaphor goes back a long time; at least to the 1st century C.E.  According to Rabbi Yochanan’s teaching in the Talmud (tractate Rosh Hashanah), three “books” are opened on Rosh Hashanah: “one for the wholly righteous, one for the wholly wicked, and one for the beynonim, the ‘in-between.’ The wholly righteous are at once inscribed and sealed in the book of life; the wholly wicked are at once inscribed and sealed in the book of death; and the beynonim, the ‘in-between,’ are held suspended from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur.”

We are told by our tradition that over the course of the Ten Days of Awe, from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, we (those who are hanging in the balance, neither completely good nor bad, we, who are the real focus of this allegory) can move our names into the Book of Life for another year.  And that is what we fervently wish one another as these Holy Days approach:  That each of us is inscribed for a good year, a year of blessing in the Book of Life.  This is a rich and evocative image that also raises many questions in our minds.  How are we supposed to interpret this ancient metaphor for our own lives today?  Can it still speak to us?  Are we to believe that our lives are somehow written for us or are we the authors of our own destiny?  If you are curious about or have wrestled with some of these provocative ideas (or would like to), please join Cantor Brian and me for an evening of study and exploration as we gather for Selichot to consider “Who Writes The Book of Life?”  Using music, art, text study and personal reflection, we will begin to open our hearts in preparation for the season of renewal and rejuvenation.  Each of us will have an opportunity, during the evening, to create a unique Soul Journal, our own Book of Life, in which we can record, over the course of the year, the journeys of our souls.   We are blessed to have Hannah Hunter, a magnificent artist, guiding us in the creation of soul collages that we will use for the cover of our journals.  Our Selichot Program “Who Writes the Book of Life?“ will run from 9-10:30 PM Saturday, September 12th in the Social Hall.  At 10:30, we will celebrate the sweetness of the New Year with a delicious Oneg, followed by a beautiful Selichot service.  See all of the details further on in the E-Tone.   Together may we create lives that are beautiful works of art.

With sweet blessings for the New Year,

Rabbi Greg