Union for Reform Judaism Member Congregation

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Open Gate. Courtesy Dave Catchpole CC Flickr.

Open Gate. Courtesy Dave Catchpole CC Flickr.

On Rosh Hashanah we greet each other with “L’shanah Tovah” – “A good year.” The more formal expression is “L’shanah Tovah Tikateivu V’teichateimu” – “A good year, and may you be inscribed and sealed (for blessing in the Book of Life).” The traditional imagery of the High Holy Days is of the Almighty sitting up in the Heavenly Court, writing (from the root k-t-v) in a big book, the Book of Life. On Rosh Hashanah, our names are written in there, along with what lies in store for us in the year ahead. During the Ten Days of Repentance – these very days – we have a chance to alter an ominous decree with the sincerity and conscientiousness of our teshuvah – the amends we make, one with the other, and with God. Then on Yom Kippur, according to this imagery, God makes the final decision, and seals (from the root ch-t-m) our fate, and as the sun sets, the big book closes. Along with the big book goes the image of the Heavenly Gates, which also close as the sun sets. These are the Gates of Repentance – sha’arei teshuvah. The final service of Yom Kippur, Ne’ilah, features this image most prominently, using the term “lin’ol,” meaning “to lock.” (Sandals in Hebrew are “na’alayim” because they close by locking.)

Thus, given this imagery, the correct phrase with which we ought to greet each other on Yom Kippur is “G’mar Chatimah Tovah” – “May your seal ultimately be for good.” And, if we’re a bit weary from all the fasting, many of us shorten it with “G’mar Tov.”

Regardless of how literally or figuratively we look at this imagery, the principle is the same for all of us. Our responsibility during these Days of Awe is to seek rapprochement, one with the other, and return to our relationship with God and with our Jewish tradition. But we also learn that while this is the time set aside for this rapprochement, we should carry this with us throughout the year as well. Even given the imagery of the closing book and the closing gates, “The Gates of Repentance are always open” (Lamentations Rabba 3:43). So it is with this expression of hopefulness and optimism that I wish all of you not only a “Tzom Kal,” – “and easy fast” – but also “G’mar Chatimah Tovah.”