One of the most powerful prayers in the High Holiday liturgy is B’Rosh Hashanah, which describes in traditional language our fate for the coming year: “On Rosh Hashanah the decision is made and on Yom Kippur that decision is finalized.”
What follows is a laundry list of sorts: who shall live and who shall die; who will live a long life and who will come to an untimely end; who will perish 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 plague; who will be strangled and who will be stoned; who will be at peace and who will be troubled; who will be serene and who will be disturbed; who will be tranquil and who will be tormented; who will be impoverished and who will be enriched; who will be brought low and who will be raised up.
These words resonate for us today even as they did for our ancestors a thousand years or so ago as we think about:
The still uncounted numbers of victims of Hurricane Dorian.
The three million people who die each year from lack of vaccinations.
The twin scourges of hunger and thirst which cause untold suffering and countless deaths.
The 1.3 billion people worldwide living in extreme poverty.
The eight richest men in the world who hold half of the world’s total wealth.
Those who died by fire, whether on a ship, in a home or in a forest fire.
Those who are tormented by the pain of mental illness.
Those who are able to rise above their problems and succeed.
What will the year to come hold in store for us? None of us can know for sure. But we can be assured of this: we are given a lifeline, one which says, “u’t’shuvah, u’t’filah u’tz’dakah ma-avirin et ro-a ha-g’zeirah - through sincere repentance, authentic prayer and heartfelt deeds of lovingkindness, we have the power to transform the harshness of our destiny.”
May our prayers during this holiest of seasons be pleasing to God, may they be pleasing to us and may they inspire us to live a better life in the year to come than we did in this year just ended.
Shana tova u’m’tukah - A good and sweet New Year to you and all those whom you hold dear!