Our Book of Life 1
Seder Ha Layla
Family, Friends and Community
Letter to a friend
Ba-ruch ha-or ba-o-lam
Zo-hair ha-or b'a-dam
Ya-kar ha-or shel shalom
Blessed is the light in the universe
Radiant is the light within each person
Precious is the light of peace
When one begins to look at the task of teshuva (repentance), it can be overwhelming. We've made so many mistakes this past year that it's hard to know where to begin! Clearly, if we don't have an excellent system for tackling this project, it will be very time consuming and draining.
In Judaism we say that if you can get to the root of the problem, you can eliminate it entirely. That is the goal of the "Al Chet" prayer that we say so many times during Yom Kippur services. The 44 statements comprising "Al Chet" are not a list of mistakes, but rather identify the roots of mistakes.
We'll examine the "Al Chet" prayer, one statement at a time. But remember: "Change" is a process that doesn't happen immediately. Don't try to conquer too many things at once; it may be too overwhelming. Instead, choose the areas that cut closest to the root of your problems. This will maximize your success in the Teshuva process.
(Refer to Al Chet Text)
During the time of the Mishnah (1st and 2nd century) an unceasing drought struck Eretz Yisrael. As a result, Rosh la-Chachomim, Rabbi Akiva, composed the powerful and emotional prayer, Avinu Malkeinu. Since then the prayer has been repeatedly used during times of reflection and repentance. The words below are the last two lines of the prayer.
AVINU MALKEINU (Traditional Version)
Avinu Malkeinu, Chaneinu V'aneinu,
ki ein banu ma'asim.
Assei imanu ts'dakah vachesed, vehoshiyeinu.
OUR FATHER, OUR KING
Hear our voice, Lord our God, pity and be compassionate to us, and accept - with compassion and favour - our prayer.
Ts’rikhim Anahnu Tsedeq v’-Hesed We Need Justice & Kindness
(an adaptation of Rabbi Sherwin Wine’s “Ani-nu” – sung like the traditional version attributed to Rabbi Aqiva in the Takmud: Taanit 25b)
Ts’rikhim Anahnu We need
l-taher libei-nu (repeat first 2 lines) to cleanse our hearts
ki’ein ba-nu for lacking among us
ma’asim. are (enough) good deeds.
T’hi ima-nu Let there be among us
ts’daqah v’hesed (more) justice and kindness
v’-gam y’shuah. (repeat last 3 lines) and also help (in times of trouble).
Let us recognize our short-comings and our potentials
as we work to live up to our ideals.
Avinu Kolenu, Haneynu Aneynu
Avinu Kolenu, Haneynu Aneynu
Ki Ain Banu Ma-a-seem
We are responsible for our deeds.
We are responsible for granting forgiveness.
We are responsible for forgiving ourselves.
We join together to declare that which we wish to forgive.
It says: We are here again to link ourselves to our ancestors, generation to generation, who hearkened to this melody before us.
It says: We are here again this Yom Kippur to renew our vows which, humanly, we may come to break.
It says: We are here again this Yom Kippur to make vows once again, despite the fact that we are fallible and struggle to live up to them.
It says: We are here again this Yom Kippur to declare our right to be Jews and to honor the memory of those who died for the right to say these words.
It says: We are here again this Yom Kippur. We rejoice in our heritage and in our humanity, which have preserved our people, sustained us in life, and brought us forward to this day and this evening of Kol Nidre.
Traditional Text (brackets contain words added to the proclamation)
All vows and renunciations, promises and obligations, bonds and devotions, and oaths that we have vowed or sworn, or that we have promised, or to which we have bound ourselves, from this Yom Kippur until next Yom Kippur let them bring goodness upon us.
All these we repent in them.
[Should] All these be absolved, released, annulled, made void and of no effect?
[Should] They...not bind us or have power over us?
[Should] Our vows...not be vows?
[Should] Our renunciations...not be renunciations.
And our oaths...not be oaths?
[This is the time to re-evaluate our vows and bonds, reassess our obligations, renunciations and promises]
FOUR MODERN VERSIONS
OF KOL NIDRE
by Sherwin T. Wine
We must avoid making empty vows.
We must commit ourselves to deeds rather than words.
All vows, promises and resolutions we may make,
all oaths and pledges we may take between this Day of Atonement
and the Day of Atonement to come,
that are made for love and righteousness,
we affirm and accept.
by Daniel Radosh, based on a text in the High Holiday service
of Congregation Machar, Washington, D.C.
We will forgive those who may hurt us.
Whether deliberately or by accident.
We will pardon fully those
who may not keep their promises,
obligations or oaths
between this Day of Atonement
and the Day of Atonement to come.
When tolerance and justice light our days
We bring tolerance and justice to the world.
by Peter Schweitzer, based on a text in the High Holiday service
of Congregation Oreynu, Toronto
Kol Nidre - chant of ages,
Chant of Israel, chant of sorrow,
Of a people bowed in anguish
Crushed by tyrants, hearts broken
Homeless, weary, wandering everywhere.
Generations have hearkened to your plaintive notes
That bring forth tears, that stir up courage.
Out of trials come hopes and yearnings,
Memories of ancestors, dreams renewed.
Into your stirring melody, haunted and pierced
our singers have poured their hearts
And have brought us strength
and resolve renewed.
by Charles Newman
Let us make vows only for good.
From this Day of Atonement to the next,
let us act on our vows not only
because we made them
and they therefore bind us,
but because we are free to continue
to pursue the good.
Letter to a friend
SARA, DAVID, not everything in the coming year will be under our control. It never is. “On Rosh Hashanah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed…” The book is being written now but we don’t get to read it in advance. Even in the twenty-first century, when human beings have decoded the genome and photographed the birth of galaxies, there is one thing not even the greatest Nobel prize-winning scientist knows: what tomorrow will bring. We live with uncertainty. That is the human condition and always will be. But what matters will be under our control. How will we act and react? Will we behave honourably, graciously, generously? Will we help others? Will we make sacrifices for the sake of our ideals? Will we live for something bigger than the self? Will we honour, praise, respect, admire? Will we give hospitality to the lonely, comfort to the bereaved, and support to those in need? Will we give our family time? Will we give our soul the space to breathe? Will we enhance other people’s lives? These are the questions we should ask ourselves on Yom Kippur. For it is not what happens to us on which our happiness depends. It depends on how we respond to what happens to us. So in this, my last letter to you before Yom Kippur, let me share with you ten secrets I’ve learned from Judaism. They will bring you happiness whatever fate has in store for you in the coming year.
1. Give thanks. Once a day, in the morning, give thanks for what you have. This alone will bring you halfway to happiness. We already have most of the ingredients of a happy life. It’s just that we tend to take these for granted and concentrate instead on our unfulfilled desires. Giving thanks in prayer focuses attention on the good and helps us keep a sense of proportion about the rest. It’s better than shopping – and cheaper too.
2. Praise. Catch someone doing something right and say so. Most people, most of the time, are unappreciated. Being recognised, thanked and congratulated by someone else is one of the most empowering things that can happen to us. So don’t wait for someone to do it for you: do it for someone else. You will make their day, and that will help make yours. Alenu leshabe’ach means, “It’s our duty to praise”.
3. Spend time with your family. Keep Shabbat, so that there is at least one time a week when you sit down to have a meal together with no distractions – no television, no phone, no email, just being together, talking together, celebrating one another’s company. Happy marriages and families need dedicated time.
4. Discover meaning. Take time, once in a while, to ask the Yom Kippur questions, “Why am I here? What do I hope to achieve? How best can I use my gifts? What would I wish to be said about me when I am no longer here?” Finding meaning is essential to a fulfilled life – and how will you find it if you never look? If you don’t know where you want to be, you will never get there however fast you run.
5. Live your values. Most of us believe in high ideals, but we act on them only sporadically. The best thing to do is to establish habits that get us to enact those ideals daily. That is what mitzvot are: ideals in action, constantly rehearsed.
6. Forgive. This is the emotional equivalent of losing excess weight. Life is too short to bear a grudge or seek revenge. Forgiving someone is good for them but even better for you. The bad has happened. It won’t be made better by your dwelling on it. Let it go. Move on.
7. Keep growing. Don’t stand still, especially in the life of the spirit. The Jewish way to change the world is to start with yourself. Anne Frank once wrote: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world”.
8. Learn to listen. Often in conversation we spend half our time thinking of what we want to say next instead of paying attention to what the other person is saying. Listening is one of the greatest gifts we can give to someone else. It means that we are open to them, that we take them seriously, that we accept graciously their gift of words. The keyword in Judaism is Shema, which simply means “Listen”.
9. Create moments of silence in the soul. Liberate yourself, if only five minutes daily, from the tyranny of technology, the mobile phone, the laptop and all the other electronic intruders. Remember that life is in every breath we breathe. Inhale the heady air of existence, and feel the joy of being.
10. Transform suffering. When bad things happen to you, use them to sensitise you to the pain of others. The people who survived tragedy and became stronger as a result did not ask, “Who did this to me?” They asked, “What does this allow me to do that I could not have done before?” They didn’t curse the darkness; instead they lit a candle. They refused to become victims of circumstance. They became, instead, agents of hope. Life’s too full of blessings to waste time and attention on artificial substitutes. Live, give, forgive, celebrate and praise: these are still the best ways of making a blessing over life, thereby turning life into a blessing.
Sara, David, our beloved children: you will never know how many blessings you have given your mother and me. Be the best you can, be an ambassador for Judaism and the Jewish people, use each day to do something demanding, and never be afraid to learn and grow.