I mentioned on Rosh Hashanah that the Untaneh Tokef prayer always makes me cry. It is more than a prayer; it is a statement of censure against the world. The famous words of the prayer, declare that on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur it is written and sealed, who will live and who will die. I am sad, because I wish it would say, “will people die? Will people die by fire and will people die by water?” but we obviously know that these tragedies are inevitable. Which is why I cry.
This year, my friend Jake Novak and I have compiled a list of ways that the Untaneh Tokef prayer came to fruition over this past year, 5775. The hope is that this list remind of the brokenness that exists in the world, but also our capacity to make a difference. Jake, a supervising producer for CNBC’s show Power Lunch has a great eye for important news stories and the role that religion (Judaism in particular) plays in understanding the world’s most pressing issues.
Here is our interpertation of Untaneh Tokef, 5775-5776.
On Rosh Hashanah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed:
How many will pass on and how many will be born
Who will live (Her Royal Highness Princess Charlotte of Cambridge, is born)
And who will die (Dr. Oliver Sacks, beloved neurologist and writer for the New Yorker dies at 82)
Who will live a long life (Since the death of 116-year-old Jeralean Talley of the United States on 17 June 2015, Susannah Mushatt Jones also of the United States, born 6 July 1899, is the oldest living person in the world whose age can be documented)
And who will come to an untimely end (Beau Biden, a decorated US Veteran and son of Vice President Joe Biden dies at age 46 from brain cancer)
Who will perish by fire (Fire fighters die while houses and lands are destroyed in intense forest fires throughout California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho)
Who by water (31 people killed during deadly flooding in Oklahoma and Texas)
Who by sword (ISIS beheads hundreds of men, women and children whom they consider infidels. The most at one time was 30 Ethiopian Christians in April 2015)
And who by wild beast (In the Republic of Georgia a man is mauled to death by a white tiger who escaped the zoo during a flood)
Who by hunger (3.1 million children, world-wide, die each year from hunger)
And who by thirst (California drought is worst in 1,200 years)
And who by earthquake (Nepal. More than 8,000 people killed in earthquake with a 7.8 magnitude)
And who by plague (Outbreak of Ebola in West Africa claims over 10,000 lives)
Who will be strangled (Eric Garner, “I can’t breathe!”)
And who by stoning (Members of ISIS stone gay men to death; at least four incidents reported)
Who will be at peace (the nation of Mali finally finds peace after years of civil war)
And who will be disturbed (350 million people worldwide struggle with depression)
Who will be serene and who will be left to wander (Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees flee to Europe causing one of the most severe Migrant Crises in history)
Who will be impoverished and who will be enriched (Chinese stock exchange experiences a drastic boom from January to June and then an equally drastic bust starting in June. Subsequently, the US markets went down about 7%)
Who will be brought low and who will be raised up (life is all about perspective. Will you be brought low by grief or raised up with defiance and courage?)
In so many of these tragedies, there has been a response by concerned citizens and response teams to try to improve the world. Yes, there was a lot of sadness and terror this year, but there was also a lot of goodness. This coming year, 5776, is bound to have its own news stories that will fit this prayer, but we hope that we can make a difference and soften the harshness of these inevitabilities. Which is why we pray:
Teshuva, Tefila, Tzedakah Mavirin et Roa Ha’gezara – Repentance, Prayer and Charity work will soften the harshness of the decree and can improve our destinies.