An Un'taneh Tokef for Our Times

By Rabbi Jonathan Biatch

Un'taneh Tokef is liturgy from the High Holy Days, depicting the Jewish theological concept that we can have an influence for good over the fate that God selects for us based upon our behavior. I offer us this original version of an Un'taneh Tokef prayer, albeit in a secular context, about the hope that through human behavior, we can change the pathway of the world:

On the day the virus entered our country, our fate was cast, and on the day we acted as a nation dedicated to protecting life, our fate was sealed: how many would pass from the earth and how many would survive; who would live and who would die; who would have mere difficulty breathing, and who would require a ventilator; who would pass the virus on to others, and who would stop the spread; who would contribute to the eradication effort by their socially distanced social action, and who would mix and mingle and indiscriminately infect others; who would rest at home and, isolated, save lives, and who would wander about with bare faces to give or receive infection; who would live in fear of every passing breeze or exhalation, and who would take proper precautions and live with courage; who would be depressed by their quarantine, and who would enrich their lives with new talents and optimism; who would be degraded and disabled by their confinement, and who would find inner peace. But social distancing, wearing masks, and limiting prolonged indoor exposure to people you don’t know will help avert the spread of Covid-19.

Rabbi Jonathan Biatch, DD, MAHL earned a BA from California State University, Northridge, in radio-television broadcast management and then participated in a Jewish students’ institute and worked as a television production assistant in Israel. He earned a master’s degree in Jewish communal service from Brandeis University and worked for seven years at Jewish Federations in Buffalo, St. Louis, and Houston. He then entered the rabbinical program at Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion, receiving his master’s degree in Hebrew letters in 1991 and rabbinic ordination in 1992. Rabbi Biatch served pulpits in Staunton, Harrisonburg, and Alexandria, Virginia, and in Glendale, California, before joining Temple Beth El in 2005.

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