This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnessesagainst you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.Deuteronomy 30:19

Jews around the world are entering the most holy time on the Jewish calendar, the High Holy Days. Beginning with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and ending ten days later with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, this season is marked by intense reflection and repentance. This is one of 18 devotions focused on this holy season, exploring its meaning and the many lessons we can learn from this biblically mandated observance. To learn more, download our free study on the shofar, ram’s horn, that ushers in this holy season.

Rosh Hashanah, which we just celebrated, is the Jewish New Year. Yom Kippur is known as the Day of Atonement. Together, these two holidays comprise the High Holy Days. On Rosh Hashanah, which is also known as the Day of Judgment, God evaluates and judges His creations. Ten days later on Yom Kippur, His judgment is sealed.

The Talmud (the Jewish Oral Tradition) explains that on Rosh Hashanah, God opens three books: one to list the righteous people; one for the wicked people; and one for those in the middle. The righteous are inscribed and sealed in the book for life. The wicked are inscribed and sealed for death. Those in the middle – the majority of us – have ten days in order to tip the scales in our favor.

A traditional Yom Kippur greeting is: “May you be sealed in the Book of Life.” In our prayers, we beseech God: “Write us for life, King who desires life, and seal us in the Book of Life.” We spend 26 hours in fasting, repentance, and prayer – all so that God might grant us another year of life. However, in a sense, our fate is really up to us. In Deuteronomy God tells us: “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” It’s up to us to choose life.

So many people are like the walking dead. They exist and breathe but they aren’t really living. Some people spend their days angry, depressed, resentful, and bitter. They refuse to give life a chance; they refuse to be grateful, loving, or kind. Some folks simply waste their lives and resources on things that have no meaning or purpose at all. This is not living! This is not the kind of life that God wants for us. God wants us to choose hope, faith, obedience, and kindness. God wants us to embrace Him and those around us. How can we dare ask God to select us for the Book of Life, if we ourselves have not chosen life?

According to Jewish tradition, every night as we sleep, our souls ascend to Heaven. There, we record what we did that day and we sign our signature. We quite literally inscribe ourselves in the Book of Life, or God forbid, for the other.

Let’s live our lives in a way that we can be sure to be inscribed for life. Let us write that we live each day with faith and devotion. Let us write that we do our best to make our lives count. Let us write that we choose God, choose good – and that we most certainly choose life!

Learn more about the traditions and rituals associated with Rosh Hashanah in this free issue of our Bible study series, Limmud (“study” in Hebrew), “Shofar: The Sounds of Repentance.”

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