Who Holds the Pen?

Imagine that Yom Kippur is not just another day in the long timeline of your life. Imagine that it is not just a convenient break in your routine to stop eating and make a few attempted resolutions. Instead, imagine it as a blank slate on which you can write whatever you want as the next chapter of your life. Anything is possible. Everything is possible. This is a powerful image.

The best part about this image is that it is real. This concept is understood through a beautiful interpretation of one of the most famous High Holiday prayers, U’netaneh Tokef.

The prayer begins with the words, “B’Rosh Hashanah Yechateyvun,” or “On Rosh Hashanah it [our future] is written.” It is sobering to think that our year is determined from the outset, and that God is committed to — and resolute in — making what is written become reality. And it is unnerving to picture God scrupulously taking notes on everything we have done the year past, and determining what we are deserving of in the new year ahead.

Sounds scary. Unless we look at it from a different perspective.


All the prayer actually says is that our future is written down and it is done so on this day…but it does not indicate who is actually doing the writing. Who in fact holds the pen? Perhaps, upon further reflection of the prayer, one could suggest that when the book is open and our future is being written for our life’s next chapter, it is not God’s hand that is holding the pen, but in fact is our own!

We all make mistakes and often we grow from our mistakes…but only if we acknowledge that they are mistakes and that we are capable of better. So along comes Yom Kippur, a time when God asks us to dream and commit it to writing, not in a diary but in a chapter called “our new year.”  This is our opportunity to rewrite a new year, to recalibrate our values, to wipe the slate clean and start authoring our own futures. Now is the time to realize that our past need not determine our future; that the things we often hold on to are precisely the things that are holding us back!

This sounds far simpler than it is. After all, improving your life and your commitment to Judaism is not easy…unless you have some help. As previously mentioned, God is indeed committed to helping make what is written become a reality. While He may not write our future, He looks in the book and signs off on it, committing to help us achieve our goals. He’s not taking on the role of judge for the rest of the year; He is signing up to be our trainer, our coach, committed to helping us achieve our bold new goals, because anything and everything is possible, and He believes in us, sometimes even more than we believe in ourselves.

So go ahead — wipe your slate clean! Then take a pen and start thinking, “What should I write that will help me become the best person I can be, the best Jew I can be — and ultimately the best ME I can be?”  Write a bold and inspiring new chapter and then always remember, especially when the struggle to stay true to your goals is challenged, that you’ve got the best Coach in your corner to help you succeed!  And let the new year begin!

About the Author
Upon receiving a Masters in Education and Semicha from Yeshica University, Rabbi Rafi returned to Toronto where he founded The House, a dynamic Jewish programming center that annually inspires over 3000 young professionals, and he currently serves as its Founding Director. Soon thereafter he was appointed as Rabbi of Shaarei Tefillah, a synagogue quickly becoming the destination for young families from diverse Jewish backgrounds. Most recently, he launched a daily podcast of Torah inspiration at
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