The Bible Says What? ‘We have the power to change our destiny’
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The Bible Says What? ‘We have the power to change our destiny’

Rabbi Dr Rene Pfertzel looks into the Torah and reflects on a controversial topic with a Liberal Jewish response

Repentance, prayer and good deeds annul the severity of the decree.

The prayer Unetane Tokef is one of the most profound, and yet perplexing prayers of the Ashkenazi High Holy Days liturgy.

It sets the background of the heavenly court that will judge all sinners during those days.

The words above are the key of this poem. They come after a long list of pairs describing our fate for the coming year:

On Rosh Hashanah they will be written down, and on Yom Kippur they will be sealed.

How many will pass on, and how many will be born? Who at their end, and who not at their end? Who by fire and who by water?

The “decree” talked about is the fate that is supposedly sealed on Yom Kippur. We are told that via repentance, prayer and good deeds one may soften it, ie we have the power to change our own destiny.

Judaism has always tried to reconcile two ideas that seem irreconcilable. Mishna Avot 3:15 says: “Everything is foreseen, yet free will is given”.

Berachot 33b expresses the same idea: “Everything is the hand of God, except the fear of God”.

For today’s Liberal Jew, this passage of Unetane Tokef tells us it is not what you say that matters, but what you do.

We can utter thousands of words of prayers during the High Holy Days, but our actions have the final word.

Repentance, return, tefillah (which comes from a root meaning “to judge”) and good deeds may change the course of our life.

But, ultimately, death is a natural process and the universal law for all living creatures.

Rabbi Dr Rene Pfertzel serves Kingston Liberal Synagogue

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