G’Mar Chatima Tova, whatever that means

We say that on Rosh Hashanah the list of who will live and who will die in this coming year is written and that on Yom Kippur it is sealed.  Why the wait?  If G-d decides who will live and die why wait 10 days to put the final stamp on it?  Aha, that is because, we are also told, prayer, repentance (or returning), and charitable acts can change the decree.  So we practice loving everyone; we put away gossip, plotting, cruelty, impatience, stubbornness, blame, judging; we ask forgiveness from others, ourselves, G-d, nature, Mother Earth, whatever and whoever we can think of to ask; we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, make donations of money; and try, try, try to be good.  And we wish each other g’mar chatima tova – to be sealed in the book of life. 

But what is that really about?  That book of life, sealing, best wishes thing?  As a child I always wondered – was there a balance sheet?  If G-d moved someone from the death side to the life side did someone else have to be moved from life to death?  If you wished someone to be sealed in the book of life did that mean you were wishing someone else had to die?  What if you didn’t wish for someone to be sealed and then that person died!?  A child’s mind, especially the mind of a smart and fearful child, can create amazing scenarios and questions with very little fodder.  I would sit in services thinking of everyone I hoped would live this year, worried that I might forget someone important. 

Of course, as I got older I stopped with that worry game and understood this on a more metaphorical level.  Now I see it as this:  if only we can improve our relationship with our own lives then to wish someone to be sealed for year of life is to wish them luck with the eternal struggles.  That is to say, when I say, “May you be sealed in the book of life,” I really mean, “May you be able to fight the good fight and make your life worthy this coming year.”  So, to all my friends, readers, family members – G’mar Chatima Tova and a very happy and sweet new year.

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