During the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we add a number of lines to the Shemoneh Esreh, asking for God to inscribe us in the Book of Life. To me these prayers have always spoken of the balance between our awareness of a divine power and our consciousness that we shape our lives and the world with our communications and actions. Odd, since these additions emphasize God’s actions, especially the ability to show mercy to human beings. Our recitation of these lines indicate that we believe our actions do have meaning and effect, at least when it comes to supplication. That we plead on behalf of the collective is evidence of our understanding that we are inter-connected and that our fates are bound together. Perhaps that is why we imagine a Book filled with names rather than more individualized acknowledgements of our fate.
During the year following the events of September 11th, 2001 I felt that the world had been permanently suspended in a period where our actions determine our future. I continuously felt that the fate of humanity was being judged and that our thoughts and behaviors were contributing to that determination. I kept myself aware of this sensibility liturgically by continuing to recite the additions to the Shemoneh Esreh throughout the year.
Now each time the season comes around I try to repeat this practice at least once in preparation for the High Holy Days. I use it as a framework for reflecting on the state of the world and of humanity. I wonder what challenges our future will bring and what mercy we can hope for, from the Divine Source and from each other. This year, 2010 and 5771, the anniversary of 9.11 falls on Shabbat Shuvah, the Sabbath in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I hope that it will remind all of us of what we learned, at least for a while, in the immediate aftermath of that day. May our collective new year be filled with blessing.