High Holy Days
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A Spiritual Pathway
Yes, something will happen, if not this year, then in some future year. There will be great joy, but there will also be sorrow, upheaval, and loss. This is part of our human existence, but how will we meet those challenges?
The Unetaneh Tokef offers us a spiritual pathway claiming, “T'shuvah, t’filah, and tzedakah will mitigate the harshness of the decree.”
- T’shuvah—repentence, response, return—is the ability to move, to change course, to come back to center, to ask forgiveness, and reconcile.
- T’filah—prayer—is the ability to let the world take our breath away, to connect with something beyond ourselves, and to articulate gratitude and awe.
- Tzedakah—righteousness—is the ability to pursue justice and to act as a fountain of generosity.
These three practices will not change whatever happens, rather they will change us. Through t’shuvah, t’filah, and tzedakah, we learn to recognize the Godliness within ourselves, in the universe and in the people around us. We take stock of our lives and work to improve and repair them; we acknowledge our blessings and try to share them with others. Thus, we gain the spiritual strength to face the vicissitudes of life.
“On Rosh HaShanah it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed: How many shall pass away and how many shall come to be; who shall live and who shall die?”
These are the profound words of the Unetaneh Tokef, a powerful prayer spoken each year during our High Holy Day services. Written well over 1,000 years ago, these haunting phrases generate feelings of both remorse and awe as we confront our mortality, our vulnerability, and the extent to which many events in life are beyond our control.
This awareness can be frightening, but it can also be liberating. It is welcoming us to live the fullest life possible in the days given to us, as well as offering us enormous potential for transformation.