Book of Life: High Holidays - Rosh Hashanah Response on Ask the Rabbi
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Book of Life

I heard the idea that during the High Holidays, God writes one's name in a book. Where does this concept come from, and how can this concept bring meaning to the holidays for me?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Talmud (Rosh Hashana 32b) says that on Rosh Hashana, God inscribes everyone's name into one of three books. The righteous go into the Book of Life, the evil go into the Book of Death, and those in-between have judgment suspended until Yom Kippur.

In actuality, the vast majority of us are neither totally good nor bad. We're more like 50/50, so we have a few more days until Yom Kippur to tip the scales. That's why the Code of Jewish Law recommends going out of our way to do extra mitzvot during this time.

Rabbi Noah Weinberg asks the question: If someone is 50/50, he apparently doesn't need any type of drastic change. He should just do one more mitzvah to tip the scales, and then there's nothing to worry about - as long as he's holding at 51/49!

The answer is that the 50/50 weighing isn't a numbers game of one mitzvah versus one transgression. The reckoning goes according to varying degrees of mass and impact. Sometimes one good act will outweigh many mistakes. Conversely, there are some sins that can outweigh all the good you did.

So to ensure getting into the Book of Life, we need something really dramatic. For example, someone who sincerely chooses to take on Jewish observance has a 1,000-ton weight going for him. The act of coming full circle to Torah is a rare type of decision that can transform you into a different person.

Of course, wherever you're holding, it's important to do as much as you can. Don't gossip, show respect to your parents, eat kosher food. Whatever you can do, add to it. But what we're really looking for is the mega-ton weights. Look for breakthroughs - the one major decision that can truly change you.

And while you're working out a strategy, here's an inspiring story about Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, the 18th century Chassidic leader. He was known as "the defense attorney of the Jewish people," because he constantly beseeched God to deal kindly with His people.

One year, Rosh Hashana fell out on Shabbat, and Rabbi Levi Yitzhak went to the front of the synagogue to lead the congregation in prayer. Before beginning, he looked heavenward and said: "God, today is Shabbat. You taught us in Your holy Torah that Shabbat may only be broken in order to save a life. I demand that you keep the laws which You gave us. Since writing is a prohibited act on Shabbat, You have no right to record anybody in the Book of Death. You may only break Shabbat to record all of mankind in the Book of Life!"

May you have a sweet new year and be sealed in the Book of Life!

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