HomeSeptember 2013Signing In on Rosh Hashana

Signing In on Rosh Hashana

Note: The following is a free translation of the words of my friend and teacher Rabbi Lior Engelman, whose first novel, You Don’t Stop Love in the Middle, will be published in the coming months.

There is a kind of book that accompanies the consciousness of a Jewish life from beginning to end.  A kind of book in which all of our deeds are written.  A book in which all the events of our lives leave a trace.  This book is mentioned in Pirke Avot: “Know what is above you: a watchful eye, an attentive ear, and all of your deeds are written in a book.”  This book is accorded an especially prominent place during the High Holy Days.  However, it could be that this book is really three books, for it is written in the Talmud: “Three books are opened on Rosh Hashanah.  The absolute righteous are immediately written and sealed for life, absolute evil-doers are immediately written and sealed for death and those in the middle have their fates suspended between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: if they are found worthy, they are written for life, if they are not, they are written for death.”  Mention of this book appears several times in Hebrew Scriptures.
Perhaps the Lord of the Universe is the one who writes in these books, or perhaps the person himself is the one who “signs in,” as it is written in a key Rosh Hashanah prayer (“U’netaneh Tokef”): “And You will open the book of remembrance and it reads itself; every man’s signature is contained in it.”  We see here that there is a book that accompanies our lives from beginning to end, a book of humankind, a book of the world.
When Moshe Rabeinu fought for the continued existence of the people of Israel after the sin of the Golden Calf, he tells God: “And now bear their sins, and if not erase me from the book that you have written.”  God answers him: “Whoever has sinned against me I will erase him from my book.”  What is this book of which Moses speaks?  What is this book from which God wishes to wipe out those who have sinned against him?  What is this book in which all is written?
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) explains as follows:
The entire plan for the world that God realizes during history may be found in the “book” that God has written ever since Genesis.  During the course of time God brings to fruition the contents of this book.  All of the people whom God uses to carry out his plans are mentioned in this book, and the life and deeds of Moshe Rabbeinu will of course have a significant place in this book.  “Erase me from the book that you’ve written,” therefore, can only mean: erase my name from among the names of those who are important before you; free me from the destiny that you have designated for me in your world’s plan.
Rabbi Hirsch teaches us here that God’s book is the blueprint for the world.  Space is designated in the book for the fingerprints of every person according to what is expected of him.  “Every man’s signature is contained in it.”  A person “signs in” through actions.  If you fill your space in the book with positive actions that advance the world, you are sealed in the book of the righteous.  If your actions retard the progress of the world and its destiny, you are sealed in the book of the evil-doers.  If the sum total of your actions produces mixed results, your signature goes into the book of the in-betweens.  Nothing is absent from this book; all human actions and plans are contained in it.  On Rosh Hashanah the book reads itself before the King of the World.  May it be that we will “press our fingerprint” in a way that is meritorious.  May we be written and may we be sealed with all of the people of Israel in the book of the righteous.  Shanah Tovah.


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