Inscribe Us in the Book of Life

Those of us who finished our Passover Seder dinner last April around 10:00 o’clock or so dutifully reiterated the time-honored closing desire: L’Shana Haba’ah B’Yerushalayim – Next year in Jerusalem.

We expressed our wish to be in Jerusalem next year.  Now we are on the brink of yet another new year.  Rosh Hashanah will be arriving on the evening of September 15.  We are still here in Budapest, and, in all likelihood, this will be so in Year 5784, too, but who knows when and how we will assemble in Jerusalem.  It will be so one day.

One of the challenging Talmudic tractates of Rosh Hashanah tells us that three books will be opened on Rosh Hashanah.  One for the entirely wicked, one for the totally righteous, and one for those in between.  Those who are found entirely wicked are at once inscribed in a Book of Doom and thus sealed for death.  The totally righteous are at once inscribed in the Book of Life and are sealed for life.  Those in between are left in suspension.  “Us” in this book entry may be asking the One who renders decisions about life and death to keep us in suspension.

My last seventy-odd years tell me that it is quite challenging to be in suspension.  We can do fewer wicked things next year and aspire to conduct our lives in a respectably righteous way.  This commitment should not be restricted to one day or two but needs to last for the entire year.

I have long thought who are those of us that fall into the entirely wicked category.  Those folks who are wicked from head to toe.  I could name a few but I would not do so here.  And I must admit it is a hard call.  I am pleased that there is someone else to render these judgment calls.  I have equally searched for those who are totally righteous and found a few close calls.  I will not name them either.  If they happen to be my readers here, this is merely the result of coincidence.

Talmudic interpretations vary as to when exactly and for how long the entirely wicked and the totally righteous qualities must be displayed.  Some sages like Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah argued that both need to be displayed on all days of one’s life during a Rabbinical year.  In contrast, Rabbi Akiva sensibly pointed out that for the entire wickedness, one day is more than enough to be inscribed in the Book of Doom, while for the total righteousness, this must be present on all days of your life.  Day and night, I might add as a self-proclaimed Rabbi.

Another well-grounded question is, in which Book the ‘in between’ folks will be inscribed.  Is there a special book for them?  My take on this is that surely there must be a Book of Life for those who are not yet sealed for life, but have a good opportunity to be shown in Volume Two of the Book of Life for one year.  And when that year is to expire, most of us have another opportunity to be shown in Volume Two for the rest of our lives.  Others on the darker side of life will be advised that Volume Three of the Book of Life will be opened for them for their wicked behavior.

Rosh Hashanah is no time for philosophizing or Talmudizing.  This holiday is about sweet intoxication and, in this very state, for sincere self-reflection on what we have done.

Happy 5784 to our dear readers both in Hungary and beyond.  Keep in good suspension!

After all, the ‘in between’ souls in the Book of Life (Volume Two and Volume Three under advisement) means nearly all of us.  Readers of this Blog and beyond.

Let us then pray for ourselves: kotvenu b’sefer he-ayyim, inscribe us in the Book of Life, and wish the same to our friends: may you, too, be written down and inscribed for a good year.

Happy 5784 to all!

Andras Isaac Hanak

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