Rabbi Michael Strassfeld: Unetaneh Tokef
Now we declare the sacred power of the day, which is the most awesome and solemn of days, when your rule is established over all, and your throne set in place by the power of love, and you come forth to govern in truth. True it is that you are our judge, you alone can reprove, you alone can know, you alone are witness to all deeds.
It is you who shall write, you who shall seal what is written, you who shall read, and you who shall number all souls. You alone can remember what we have forgotten; it is you who shall open the Book of Remembrance, but its content speaks for itself, for it bears the imprint of us all, which our deeds, our lives, this year have inscribed.
U-veshofar gadol yi-taka
And the great shofar of redemption is sounded but is overwhelmed by the sirens of ambulances wailing day and night.
Ve-kol demama daka yishama
And a still small voice cries out weeping: Listen. Listen.
And angels of mercy are rushing about in their gowns, gloved and masked as they try to save one life. And another. And another. And another.
Ve-hil u’r’adah yohazun ve-yomru
And fear and trembling have seized each and every one of us and we say:
Hineh yom ha-din
Behold, we all are confronted by our limitations.
Lifkod al tzevah marom ba-din
For we count the legions of the afflicted.
Ki lo yizku ve-enekha ba-din.
While our eyes aren’t able to see those hospitalized through our tears and their isolation.
Ve-khol ba’ai olam ya’a’vrun—Et gezar dinam
For all who are born pass through this world. As we pass, we write our story, and we hope to make our lives count, and it is decided the length of each life and its ending, and all this is written by our deeds.
Be-rosh ha-shanah yi-katevun u-ve’yom tzom kippur ye’hatemun
On Rosh ha-shanah we write our hopes
On Yom Kippur we seal them on our hearts (refrain)
Kamah ya’avorun Who shall pass on
Ve-khamah yi’bara’un Who shall be as new
Mi yihyeh Who shall be alive even in death
U-mi yamut Who shall be overcome by the shadow of death even in life
Mi ve-kitzo Who is at a dead end
U-mi lo ve-kitzo Who seeks a way to move forward
Mi-va’esh Who by fiery anger
U-mi va-mayim Who by cool indifference
Mi-va-herev Who by disparaging words
U-mi va-hayah Who by out-of-control emotion
Mi-va-ra’av Who jealously hungers for what others have
U-mi-va’tzama Who has an insatiable thirst for others’ approval
Mi-va’ra’ash Who has no way to stand up—shaken by the earthquake of injustice
U-mi va’mageifah Who will be sickened by the plague of prejudice
Mi va-hanikah Who will die strangled, crying, “I can’t breathe”
U-mi va-skilah Whose path ahead is blocked by stones of inequality
Mi yanu’ah Who can relax in her own home
U-mi yanu’a Who has no place to call home
Mi yashkit Who can feel a sense of peace
U-mi yitoraf Who feels constantly torn in pieces
Mi yeshalev Who finds equanimity
U-mi yityaseir Who is always suffering
Mi-ya’ani Who lives in the constant uncertainty of poverty
U-mi ya’ashir Who doesn’t understand the responsibility of privilege
Mi yushpal u-mi yarum Who will be humbled by our common humanity and thereby uplifted?
U’teshvah U’tefilah U’tzedakah ma’avirin et roa ha’gzerah:
Yet returning, connecting, and repairing make easier what life holds in store; make easier facing the world; make easier facing ourselves.