Rabbi Michael Strassfeld: Unetaneh Tokef

Now we declare the sacred power of the day, which is the most awesome and solemn of days, when your rule is established over all, and your throne set in place by the power of love, and you come forth to govern in truth. True it is that you are our judge, you alone can reprove, you alone can know, you alone are witness to all deeds.

It is you who shall write, you who shall seal what is written, you who shall read, and you who shall number all souls. You alone can remember what we have forgotten; it is you who shall open the Book of Remembrance, but its content speaks for itself, for it bears the imprint of us all, which our deeds, our lives, this year have inscribed.

Chant antiphonally

U-veshofar gadol yi-taka 

And the great shofar of redemption is sounded but is overwhelmed by the sirens of ambulances wailing day and night.

Ve-kol demama daka yishama

And a still small voice cries out weeping: Listen. Listen.

U-malakhim yei-hafeizun

And angels of mercy are rushing about in their gowns, gloved and masked as they try to save one life. And another. And another. And another.

Ve-hil u’r’adah yohazun ve-yomru

And fear and trembling have seized each and every one of us and we say:

Hineh yom ha-din

Behold, we all are confronted by our limitations.

Lifkod al tzevah marom ba-din

For we count the legions of the afflicted.

Ki lo yizku ve-enekha ba-din.

While our eyes aren’t able to see those hospitalized through our tears and their isolation.

Ve-khol ba’ai olam ya’a’vrun—Et gezar dinam   

For all who are born pass through this world. As we pass, we write our story, and we hope to make our lives count, and it is decided the length of each life and its ending, and all this is written by our deeds.

Be-rosh ha-shanah yi-katevun u-ve’yom tzom kippur ye’hatemun 

On Rosh ha-shanah we write our hopes

On Yom Kippur we seal them on our hearts  (refrain)

Kamah ya’avorun     Who shall pass on

Ve-khamah yi’bara’un     Who shall be as new

Mi yihyeh                Who shall be alive even in death

U-mi yamut             Who shall be overcome by the shadow of death even in life

Mi ve-kitzo              Who is at a dead end

U-mi lo ve-kitzo      Who seeks a way to move forward


Mi-va’esh                Who by fiery anger

U-mi va-mayim       Who by cool indifference

Mi-va-herev            Who by disparaging words

U-mi va-hayah        Who by out-of-control emotion

Mi-va-ra’av            Who jealously hungers for what others have

U-mi-va’tzama        Who has an insatiable thirst for others’ approval

Mi-va’ra’ash           Who has no way to stand up—shaken by the earthquake of injustice

U-mi va’mageifah   Who will be sickened by the plague of prejudice

Mi va-hanikah         Who will die strangled, crying, “I can’t breathe”

U-mi va-skilah         Whose path ahead is blocked by stones of inequality


Mi yanu’ah              Who can relax in her own home

U-mi yanu’a            Who has no place to call home

Mi yashkit               Who can feel a sense of peace

U-mi yitoraf             Who feels constantly torn in pieces

Mi yeshalev             Who finds equanimity

U-mi yityaseir          Who is always suffering

Mi-ya’ani                 Who lives in the constant uncertainty of poverty

U-mi ya’ashir           Who doesn’t understand the responsibility of privilege

Mi yushpal u-mi yarum  Who will be humbled by our common humanity and thereby uplifted?


U’teshvah U’tefilah U’tzedakah ma’avirin et roa ha’gzerah: 

Yet returning, connecting, and repairing make easier what life holds in store; make easier facing the world; make easier facing ourselves.