Q. After the Un’tanneh Tokef prayer on Rosh HaShanah why is there such a morbid thought as “Man’s beginning is dust and his end is dust”?
A. From one point of view this is meant to make us humble. The thought derives from the verse in the Torah, “Dust you are and to dust you return” (Gen. 3:19).
The interpretations of this passage in the Machzor differ widely. One view is that the human being who uses life wisely begins with dust but is capable of reaching the stars, and it is a tragedy if they make no effort and never rise above their humble beginnings.
Another view looks across the sweep of history and dreams of the messianic redemption, hinted at in Psalm 44:26 with its possible reference to the dust of heaven.