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Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Book of Life

Elul 26

One of the most profound images of the High Holy Days that I carry with me from my childhood is God in the heavens,
pen in hand,
poised over an open ledger,
recording the deeds of every person on earth,
determining if our deeds are worthy enough so that our names might be written down in the Book of Life for the coming year.

As a child, I believed in this God, and I believed in my own power to alter my actions so that God would look favorably upon me.  Today, I do not believe that God or the universe work in this way.  I do not believe in a God who rewards or punishes or even judges.  But I do still believe in a Book of Life.  Or, to be more accurate, I believe in LOTS of Books of Life.  I believe that we each author our own, and that our deeds – the righteous and the wicked, the kind and the cruel – are recorded there.  I believe that each action leaves its imprint on the universe.  And while I do not believe we can control every plot twist in the narrative of our lives, I do believe that we are responsible for “writing” our own reactions to the world as it is constantly unfolding before us. 

In her autobiography, It’s Always Something, Gilda Radner wrote:
I wanted a perfect ending, so I sat down to write the book with the ending in place before there even was an ending.  Now I’ve learned the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end.  Like my life, this book has ambiguity.  Like my life, this book is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.

Our preparations for the High Holy Days, and the rituals involved in the observance of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, are designed to help us understand that none of us knows the ending to our own stories.  All we can do is meet our lives moment to moment, and do our best to make the most out of each moment we are given.  Can we meet this day with more compassion and less critique?  More generosity and less suspicion?  More warmth and less fear?

What will you record in your Book of Life this day?

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