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    Shaping our destiny

    Un’tanneh Tokef is a well loved prayer, but it’s perplexing.

    It seems to leave everything to fate: “It is written on Rosh HaShanah, and sealed on Yom Kippur, who will live and who will die, who will be rich and who will be poor…”

    It seems that we have no control of our destiny. Everything is decided for us. Nothing we do makes a difference. There seems little point in prayer, penitence and charity. As Omar Khayyam says, all our piety and wit can’t alter a line.

    Some say that this is Islamic fatalism, but fatalism existed before Islam and was common in the ancient world, even in parts of Judaism. The Talmud says that all is decided above (Chullin 7b).

    But Judaism never completely accepted fatalism. Some things are out of our hands, such as whether we will be fat or thin, tall or short, but we do have the power to decide our attitude to our traits and limitations.

    If we are at risk of “an evil decree”, our attitude can remove the evil. Penitence, prayer and charity are the way we can endorse, reduce or re-shape our destiny.

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