Unetaneh Tokef: Positivity Prayer

Unetaneh Tokef: Positivity Prayer

Unetaneh Tokef.

A woman wearing a talit prayer shawl and blowing the shofar, illustrating a post about the prayer Unetaneh Tokef

The heart of the Rosh Hashanah prayers. What is it about?

A scene in the heavenly court. A spiritual place. So, a metaphor for our own inner life.

The shofar sounds inside of us. The inner judge shows up. Opens the book of our life. Motions for us to come close and see: The book is written in our own unique handwriting.

And the judge says, “Look closely! You had so many challenges last year. And you faced them.”

You took time for tefilla, spiritual self-examination. You asked yourself questions, you untangled the answers, you got clarity, you acted thoughtfully.

You deepened important relationships through teshuva, return, repentance, and repair. You had the wisdom to see that you caused harm and that you want to fix it. You had the courage to apologize, to repair, and not make the same mistake.

You strengthened your community through tzedakah, justice. You reached out to people who face the most harm. You took small personal actions, you donated to agencies, you worked in coalition to change laws and institutions.

And you probably think you didn’t do enough.

So don’t worry. Next year will be full of challenges, too. We don’t know who will get sick, who will be flooded, who will be unemployed, whose heart will break. You will have so many opportunities for teshuva, tefilla, and tzedakah.

As the poet Marge Piercey says: Reach out, keep reaching out, keep bringing in. This is how we are going to live for a long time: not always, For every gardener knows that after the digging, after the planting, After the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes.


On Rosh Hashanah 5783/2022, I presented this before chanting Unetaneh Tokef at Congregation Beth Israel, Vancouver. Read more about how Unetaneh Tokef teaches us how to live in challenging times here. Read more about the mythological origins of Unetanah Tokef, and the philosophical questions it asks here.

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