September 22, 2015

To be Inscribed

I've been having a hard time with religion lately. I should say that I've never been especially religious. Raised Jewish, I've never kept kosher, or attended temple much beyond the occasional bar mitzvah. But I have always felt a connection to being Jewish and to the community. Some of my happiest memories are around the Passover seder table or breaking the Yom Kippur fast.

The Book of Life

Last week was Rosh Hashanah and tonight is the beginning of Yom Kippur. These two "high holy" days are bookends to the week where God opens the book of life and inscribes in it. These are days of reflection and this powerful prayer, the Unetaneh Tokef, is at the heart of it:
On Rosh Hashanah it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed.
How many will pass and how many will be created?
Who will live and who will die?
Who in their time, and who not their time?
Who by fire and who by water?
Who by sword and who by beast?
Who by hunger and who by thirst?
Who by earthquake and who by drowning?
Who by strangling and who by stoning?
Who will rest and who will wander?
Who will be safe and who will be torn?
Who will be calm and who will be tormented?
Who will become poor and who will get rich?
Who will be made humble and who will be raised up?
But teshuvah and tefillah and tzedakah (return and prayer and righteous acts)
deflect the evil of the decree 
"Who by fire and who by water?" As I write about this, the third most destructive fire in CA history is burning. Did God write that an entire town should be destroyed?

"Who in their time, and who not in their time?" And did God write that my brother who was, by the way, probably the most righteous of any of us, should die of a brain tumor at age 25?

"Who will be calm and who will be tormented?" And did God write that my son should struggle so much? That he should spend his childhood injuring himself?

This is not a God I want to believe in.

If you ever want to know why Jewish guilt exists, look at that last line. If you die, or are poor, or get hit by an earthquake, it's probably because you didn't pray hard enough or weren't a good enough person.

And here is the messed up part — despite my anger, despite every logical inkling, sometimes I still think that maybe this year I should try a little harder to believe. That maybe if I pray a little harder, if I'm better, then maybe Moe will be inscribed in the place where he can rest, and be safe, and be calm.


  1. I feel this, down to the last line. Secular Jew here.

  2. I don't really have anything elegant or thought provoking to say, but I wanted you to know that I read this and that it resonated with me.


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