You don’t have to be Jewish to be concerned about getting your name into the book.
What book is that?
God’s Book of Life.
Whether you are Jewish or not and celebrating the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur, or not, you need to get your name into the Book.
Here’s the deal.
At sunset Wednesday evening around the world Jews celebrated or failed to celebrate the annual spectacle of the Jewish New Year, Rosh ha-Shanah.
Why should you care?
Let me tell you why.
At sunset when rabbis all over the world wherever this Jewish holiday is paid attention to, raised their arms upward, closed their eyes and recited the following to their congregations:
“The sun is setting. The sun is setting. The Book is opening. God has opened the Book of Life.”
What is that, one might well ask?
It is the book into which God presumably writes, “Who shall live and who shall die. Who will be happy and who will be sad. Who will be rich and who will be poor. Who will be exalted and who will be brought low” and on and on in a yearly ritual practiced exactly for about 3000 years give or take a few centuries.
Assuming the Book is now open the next part of the ritual yearly for Jews goes like this: ten days from the moment the sun set Wednesday to Friday the 29th at sunset are called the ten days of penitence.
Penitence — ten days of it — is God’s apportioned time for Jews everywhere to repent for their sins, assuming they sinned — and even Jews sin.
Ten days to look back at the past 12 months, all of it, and figure out what you’ve done that needs to be apologized for, or brought out into the open just in time for Yom Kippur.
Yom Kippur is the ultimate, serious, soul searching highest holy Jewish day marked by the ultimate activity purging the soul — fasting.
This isn’t Lent when things are given up to compensate for our inequities and not so much as to repent. But rather to be made to feel guilt and the need of giving up something to assuage it.
This is a Jewish holiday when all eyes are on ourselves and God, and whether or not he will write our names into the Book of Life.
This is the eternal central question of the holiday for me — not the fasting, and not the ten days of penitence.
For me it is the remembrance of the dead, at the end of the day when the sun is setting on Yom Kippur. These are the serious moments during the High Holiday services when many of us tend to pay closer attention, when the rabbis ask all those to rise who’ve lost a loved one during the past year before reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish
When my father was alive and we sat together in synagogue for about 25 years we would always watch the spectacle of those who had lost loved ones during the year as they rose to recite the ancient prayer to the memory of the dead.
It was not until 1991 when my father died at the age of 90 that I understood the importance of getting your name written into God’s Book, which by the way, is referred to in scripture as the Book of Life.
That year on Yom Kippur I was riveted when the rabbi rose at the end of the day as the sun was setting, raised his arms high and said: “The sun is setting. The gates are closing. God is closing the Book of Life.”
A moment later the rabbi asked everyone who had lost a loved one to rise for the Kaddish.
That was one of the worst and most instructive days of my life.
I rose slowly and looked around the main sanctuary. Dozens were standing for the prayer.
It was the first time I gave some credence to the idea that God didn’t put my father’s name in the Book the year before.
Even for non-believers, Yom Kippur at sunset can be a momentous time.