Today is the first day of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana. The Unatana Tokef prayer, recited and sung in synagogues around the world today, provides an appropriate reflection regarding living and dying. This is the version found in Gates of Repentance, the New Union Prayer Book for the High Holy Days.
Let us proclaim the sacred power of this day;
it is awesome and full of dread.
For on this day Your dominion is exalted,
Your throne established in steadfast love;
there in truth You reign.
In truth You are Judge and Arbiter, Counsel and Witness.
You write and You seal, You record and recount.
You remember deeds long forgotten.
You open the book of our days,
and what is written there proclaims itself,
for it bears the signature of every human being.
The great Shofar is sounded,
the still, small voice is heard;
the angels, gripped by fear and trembling,
declare in awe:
This is the Day of Judgement!
For even the hosts of heaven are judged,
as all who dwell on earth stand arrayed before You.
As the shepherd seeks out his flock,
and makes the sheep pass under his staff,
so do You muster and number and consider
setting the bounds of every creature’s life,
and decreeing its destiny.
On Rosh Hashanah it is written,
on Yom Kippur it is sealed:
How many shall pass on, how many shall come to be;
who shall live and who shall die;
who shall see ripe age and who shall not;
who shall perish by fire and who by water;
who by sword and who by beast;
who by hunger and who by thirst;
who by earthquake and who by plague;
who by strangling and who by stoning;
who shall be secure and who shall be driven;
who shall be tranquil and who shall be troubled;
who shall be poor and who shall be rich;
who will be humbled and who shall be exalted.
But REPENTANCE, PRAYER and CHARITY temper judgment’s severe decree!
This is Your glory: You are
slow to anger, ready to forgive.
God, it is not the death of sinners You seek,
but that they should turn from their ways and live.
Until the last day You wait for them,
as soon as they turn to You.
You have created us an know what we are;
we are but flesh and blood.
Man’s origin is dust, and dust is his end.
Each of us is a shattered urn,
grass that must wither,
a flower that will fade,
a shadow moving on,
a cloud passing by,
a particle of dust floating on the wind,
a dream soon forgotten.
But You are the Sovereign, the everlasting God!