The powerful Tefillah of “UNtaneh Tokef,” recited by Ashkenazim at Mussaf every Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, states “BeRosh HaShanah Yikateivun, UVYom Tzom Kippur Yeichateimun,” “On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed [the fate of all men]...” A few days before this past Rosh HaShanah, a terrible tragedy befell Klal Yisrael. Assaf Ramon, an individual whose livelihood was protecting Klal Yisrael, died in a training exercise in Medinat Yisrael. When addressing the Yeshiva after this tragic incident, Rav Yosef Adler (Rosh Yeshiva of TABC) commented that it is mind-boggling that this calamity, while it occurred just a few days ago, was the outcome of a decision made last year by the Ribono Shel Olam on Rosh HaShanah.
I would like to offer some insight regarding this idea that is instilled in us through the Yom Kippur davening. I have heard of two Rebbeim who gave their students a seemingly peculiar assignment - to write their own obituary. They wanted to show their students that they are in fact writing their lives through their own free will, every day. Similarly, during the Yamim Noraim, we are reminded that we are writing our own obituaries. Really, the “Ketiva” which we refer to in our Yom Tov greetings and prayers refers to our writing of our own lives. Throughout the year, until Rosh HaShanah, our doings become the writing of Hashem.
On Yom Kippur, the chapter will be sealed forever. Never again will there be a 1 Elul, 5769, not for the rest of time. Never again will there be a Mitzvah to daven Minchah on 7 Adar, 5769; never again will we get the opportunity to open the door for someone carrying a bag on their back and books in their hands on 24 Av, 5769, at 6:49 PM because time will never go backwards, time will never stop, and Mitzvot will never come back.
I believe that is why Yom Kippur is the happiest day of the year and why we focus upon so much of the year’s repentance in the immediate period prior to Yom Kippur. Hashem is writing down the choices we make throughout the entire year, through Rosh HaShanah; however, very interestingly, our fate is not sealed until Yom Kippur. On the Day of Judgment, our chapter is sealed, and 5769 becomes history. On the Day of Judgment, however, we are able to do Teshuvah, repent for the bad that has been done. Furthermore, by doing repentance out of love rather than fear, we are able not only to ask Hashem to erase the bad parts of the chapter but to rewrite it for us, changing the bad to good.
Much of Parashat Haazinu is about history, which we are also dictating each and every day as a nation, starting with Avraham and continuing to the Ramon family (among others). The Torah teaches us, “VaYomer Hashem El Avram Lech Lecha MeiArtzecha UMiMoladtecha UMiBeit Avicha El HaAretz Asher Areka,” “Hashem said to Avram, ‘Go for yourself from your land, from your relatives, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.’” (BeReishit 12:1). Let us all follow Avraham and hopefully make the right choices just as he did when he found Hashem and followed Him to Eretz Yisrael.