U’netaneh Tokef is considered one of the most challenging prayers of the High Holidays. Many have a hard time with its simple reading, that our lives are not really determined by the choices that we make, but our fate is “written on Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur it is sealed.” Yet, the core of the prayer really comes near its end. Acts of prayer, righteousness and repentance impact the path of our life.
The Reconstructionist Machzor offers this interpretive U’netaneh Tokef, which captures the essential task of Teshuvah, to evaluate our lives to find the places we might make a change:
Let us ask ourselves hard questions
For this is the time of truth.
How much time did we waste
In the year that is now gone?
Did we fill our days with life
Or were they dull and empty?
Was there love inside our home
Or was the affectionate word left unsaid?
Was there real companionship within our family
Or was there a living together and a growing apart?
Were we a help to our mates
Or did we take them for granted?
How was it with our friends;
Were we there when they needed us or not?
The kind deed: did we perform it or postpone it?
The unnecessary gibe: did we say it or hold it back?
Did we live by false values?
Did we deceive others?
Did we deceive ourselves?
Were we sensitive to the rights and feelings
Of those who worked for us?
Did we acquire only possessions
Or did we acquire new insights as well?
Did we fear what the crowd would say
and keep quiet when we should have spoken out?
Did we mind only our own business
Or did we feel the heartbreak of others?
Did we live right,
And if not
Then have we learned and will we change?
(Written by Jack Reimer for “Kol HaNeshama: Machzor L’Yamim Noraim, Prayerbook for the Days of Awe” Reconstructionist Press, 1999, page 346)