From The Other Side Of The Bench
By David J. Seidemann, Esq.
This week, the big book will be dusted off and opened and the mighty quill will be dipped in the heavenly ink. On Rosh Hashanah our fate will be written and on Yom Kippur it will be sealed.
I have to wonder why G‑d bothers writing it at all on Rosh Hashanah. If the Al‑mighty will not render his final decision until the conclusion of Yom Kippur, why record anything on Rosh Hashanah in the first place?
The implication is that G‑d writes His initial plan for us on Rosh Hashanah and then decides whether or not to amend the decree by the time our penitence is concluded on Yom Kippur. But that formula begs the aforementioned question. Why not just wait till after Yom Kippur to write and then seal our fate?
And is our fate really sealed on Yom Kippur? Are there not a plethora of rabbinic opinions that extend the date of the final decree till Hoshanna Rabbah, and other opinions that say we can delay the sentencing till Chanukah?
And if our fate is really sealed on Yom Kippur, why do we bother praying for health, wealth, happiness, and forgiveness all year long? Are we not barking up the wrong tree of life?
The questions are legitimate and there are some very good answers. I refer you to your local clergy for elucidation. I offer an approach that perhaps is radical; for sure, different; and admittedly not necessarily true. I have not seen any source that confirms it. Nevertheless, it has meaning for me, and while not the traditional explanation of the haunting prayer, no doubt is an approach to consider.
The prayer simply states, “On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed . . .” Conspicuously absent is the actor. That is to say, we cannot tell from the plain reading and interpretation of the text who is doing the writing and who is doing the sealing. If both the writing and sealing were done by G‑d, my original question remains of why both are necessary.
Could it be, therefore, that we, mortal man, are doing the writing on Rosh Hashanah, and after G‑d sees where we want to be written, in which book of His we desire to dwell, that He seals the deal on Yom Kippur?
And if we are the ones doing the writing, could it be that we pray till Hoshanna Rabbah and till Chanukah, and all year long, to rewrite and supplement that which we wrote on Rosh Hashanah, telling G‑d that every day is a new chapter, a fresh beginning, and that He should seal that which we are writing every new day?
Could it be therefore that in a certain sense every day is Rosh Hashanah, albeit absent the sound of the shofar? Do we not have the opportunity every day to breathe life into our friends and family or to create an atmosphere of death and despair? Is it not in our hands to deal with G‑d’s decree with a smile or a frown?
Will we give birth to new ideas, or let our growth, intellectual and spiritual, wither and die?
Will we water our children, allowing their ideas and independence to flourish, or will we let the fire of our impatience and control hold them back?
Will we use the sword to conquer a beast who gasses his own people?
Will we feed the thirsty and hungry in our neighborhood?
Will we rebuild after a storm?
Will we be the first to cast stones, or will we allow our neighbors to enjoy the benefit of our doubt and allow them to live in tranquillity?
Will we consider ourselves to be impoverished—always focusing on what we do not have, or will we convey to G‑d that we reside in the book of the enriched because we have wives and children, which is the greatest blessing of all?
Will we redefine wealth and its hold on us?
Will we excise the demons from our minds, that self-imposed exile of too much insecurity on the one hand or an excess of haughtiness on the other extreme?
Will we let the nations of the world degrade us, or will we stand up for and with the Nation of Israel and the people of Israel and Jews worldwide, wherever they may be, and return our people to their status of the exalted?
Much more is in our hands than we think. Oh, sure, it’s G‑d’s book. But He is handing us His pen and affording us the opportunity to write. And if we change our minds, He is allowing us the opportunity to rewrite, to sit for the exam again and again, every day, and He seals us in the book—which really is an autobiography, because it is the book of our lives that we write ourselves. v
David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann and Mermelstein and serves as a professor of business law at Touro College. He can be reached at 718-692-1013 or firstname.lastname@example.org.