One of the most powerful moments of the High Holiday liturgy comes during the Unetanah Tokef. This prayer describes the divine judgment that takes place during these days–“who shall live and who shall die”–and offers the keys to change: tefillah (prayer), teshuvah (repentance), and tzedakah (charity). The author uses these concepts as the basis for a meditation focused on the holidays. Reprinted with permission from the website of the Shalom Center.
This is the time to know our own song, to allow the echoes of our thoughts, words, and actions of this past year to ripple through us, awakening knowledge and power for the song that is yet to be born.
In “facing the music,” I hear the hesitant strains of my own broken dreams. I wince at the dissonance between intention and deed, between ecstatic ideal and sober reality. I listen carefully to tone and timber. Where have I been half-hearted in my loving? I listen for harmony and counterpoint. Where have I created discord with my argument or complaint? And I notice pitch. How carefully have I listened? As I follow the line of my own melody, I ask, “Where is this leading me?”
This song of my life makes a deep groove, and the record will play over and over and over again. The mind weaves an endless loop. repeating mistakes, like bad jingles or notes that fall forever flat without lilt or vigor.
Yet on these High Holy Days we are given a reprieve from the oppression of habit. We are give the chance to “annul the severity of the judgment,” which means to stop the song, to hear its complex rhythms and beauty, and to begin to sing again, altering the pattern of this song so that its melody will birth a new singer.
And how is this miracle accomplished? We are given a score consisting of three components. Tefillah, Teshuvah, and Tzedakah are the essential instruments necessary for the re-creation of the Song which is the flow of life.
This is the time when [in the words of the Unetanah Tokef prayer], “The great Shofar is sounded, and a still small voice is heard.”