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    Writing our own record

    Un’tanneh Tokef is an unending source of emotional, spiritual and intellectual fascination.

    Its depiction of the Heavenly court on Rosh HaShanah is unrivalled. The court scrutinises a stream of defendants. The prosecutor makes his accusations; the defending counsel makes a response. God Himself sits in judgment.

    As the proceedings unfold, every case is entered in the court books. But not by a court official. No: each person’s record writes itself.

    The idea derives from a Talmudic passage (RH 16b), which says, “Three books are opened on Rosh HaShanah… the wholly righteous are written and sealed at once for life and the wholly wicked for death; the intermediate category have their cases suspended”.

    The text does not say that any specific official makes the entry in the record. The words are passive, not active: “the wholly righteous are written and sealed…”

    By whom? The answer of Un’tanneh Tokef is unequivocal: our deeds write their own record.

    To which the Chafetz Chayyim adds: it all depends on how we deal with other people. If we judge them uncharitably and speak ill of them we are inviting the Chief Justice to judge us negatively.

    “Therefore a man needs to bear in mind that whenever he judges another human being, either favourably or otherwise, with his words, he is actually, literally, arranging and determining his own judgment in heaven” (Sh’mirat HaLashon, Sha’ar HaT’vunah 4).

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