“On Rosh Hashanah their decree is inscribed, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed. How many will pass away and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will come to his timely end, and who to an untimely end; who will perish by fire and who by water; who by the sword and who by beast; who by hunger and who by thirst; who by earthquake and who by the plague; who by strangling and who by stoning; who will be at rest and who will wander about; who will have serenity and who will be confused; who will be tranquil and who will be tormented; who will become poor and who will become wealthy; who will be brought to a low state and who will be uplifted.”
The excerpt above is part of the daunting Unetaneh Tokef, a prayer recited during the Musaf High Holy Days services, and it has resonated with me for two reasons:
• It’s a central theme of the just-concluded High Holy Days, which leads to the fall Sukkot and Simchat Torah holidays.
• The message that it drives home – that we’re only alive for a period of time – should act as a wake-up call to humanity.
That’s why this prayer has motivated the first of my 10 Jewish New Year wishes, one for each of the 10 Days of Repentance:
1. That people should realize
that all of the arguing, hatred and divisiveness that far too many people seem to enjoy engaging in is all for naught. Why? Because in the end, no matter how self-righteous and arrogant you may sound in virulently opposing other people’s views, the hard truth is this: We’re all going to appear on the obituary page as the final act of our lives.
I’m making this wish because I’m extremely tired of the disturbing rise in antisemitism and hatred of minorities that has dominated our society since the onset of the pandemic.
Here are my nine other new year’s wishes, which are in line with my hopes for a calmer and more just society:
2. Tolerance and respect: We must relearn the art of disagreeing with people without demonizing them, which far too many people relish doing. Such poisonous rhetoric has had deadly consequences, empowering white supremacists and other extremist groups to commit violent acts against minorities.
3. Compassion and empathy: Remember the proverb “There but for the grace of God go I” and show your fellow human beings some consideration before writing them off.
4. Be kinder: Extending kindness to others, especially strangers, beats being nasty toward them. Kindness is also contagious, and you’ll feel better for it.
5. Good physical and mental health: Quite simply, I wish you a healthy year. The older you get, the more you’ll understand that with good health, a longer life is meaningful, and without it, your final years can become extremely challenging and difficult.
6. Get moving/exercise: I wish people would get off their phones and exercise instead, even if it’s only to take a daily walk. Staying in shape is especially important during these uncertain post-pandemic times, and will also help keep your mind nimble as you age.
7. Smiles/laughter: It’s said that laughter is the best medicine, and believe me, when you laugh, you’ll feel better. You also have to learn to laugh at yourself. When you do, you’ll become more tolerant of others.
8. Values/wealth: Making sure that you have enough money to live on is important, but it’s not everything. Remember that Tevye, the humble milkman in “Fiddler on the Roof,” sang “If I Were a Rich Man,” but in truth, he was already a very rich man, because he had a loving family and plenty of friends. I’ve always considered myself a rich man because of the good friends I’ve stayed in touch with for decades, as well as having a loving wife and daughters to support me. That, as the Mastercard commercials used to say, is “priceless.”
9. Give up grudges: I have, at times, held grudges, but I’ve been trying hard to change that behavior, because holding grudges can make you miserable. Try instead to be a bigger person and forgive and forget; you’ll feel better, even if the target of your grudge refuses to reconcile.
10. Lighten up: People have to rediscover their sense of humor (see No. 7). Thanks to the vindictive, “gotcha!” nature of social media, far too many of us are more interested in running down people instead of trying to be better human beings.
I wish you, above all, a very healthy, happy and peaceful 5784.
LARRY KESSLER (email@example.com) is a freelance writer based in North Attleboro. He blogs at larrytheklineup.blogspot.com.