One of the most moving sections of the High Holiday liturgy is the Unesaneh Tokef.
This prayer, whose true origins are the subject of much scholarly debate, signify the essence of this season. These are the Days of Awe, Judgment of all mankind, in which the question of life or death and what type of life or death, are made on high.
The crescendo peaks with the statement that Tshuva (Repentance), Tfilah (Prayer) and Tzedaka (Charity) can remove the evil (of the) decree. This means that no matter what has been decreed above, WE have the ability to change the outcome.
I have yet to pray in a congregation in which these words don’t evoke great emotion (and most of the time actual shouting).
Millions of Jews, representing the diverse spectrum of religious observance, are united, if only for a moment, through uttering this prayer and hope for the better.
That makes this prayer “prime real estate” in the High Holiday prayer books. If we sold advertising space, it could be the “Super Bowl half Time” within the Jewish PR world.
I have always wondered why, out of all possible good deeds, these 3 get the “marquee billing”. What is so unique and powerful about Tshuva, Tfilah and Tzedaka that separates them from 610 other commandments?
The theme of this prayer is CHANGE. We beseech the Master of the Universe, that in case it has been decreed otherwise, to please grant us a year of Life. Life with health, prosperity and everything good.
So what is in it for God? Why should He reverse the decree?
Its all about change.
God tells us that if you want a change from Me, then you must change.
That change must be in how you interact with Me, with your fellow man and perhaps most importantly, with yourself.
How can we affect this change on all 3 fronts?
Through Tshuva, Tfilah and Tzedaka!
Tshuva, repentance, is the act of repairing one’s relationship with them self. It is the idea of “returning” to being a righteous individual through introspection and self-improvement. Being true to one’s self sets the stage for true change.
Tfilah, prayer, is the vehicle by which we communicate with and connect to the Almighty. Is our prayer mere empty words or the true outpouring of our soul to its Source and Creator?
Tzedaka, charity, are the acts that show that we are not in it for ourselves only. We look out for the welfare of others. The ultimate in relationships with others is being sensitive to their needs being material, emotional or spiritual.
When we commit to these changes we show that in fact we are different people. We are not the same individuals. We truly want to be better in all aspects of our lives.
Change is difficult and often frightening. But it is change that can give us a new lease on our lives, a new dimension to our relationships and God willing seal us for a great new year.