Who Will Live and Who Will Die

Who Will Live and Who Will Die

I have said often that I am not one for formalized prayer. I prefer to speak to God when I am ready to speak to Him, and to speak to Him using my own words and thoughts and phrases. As I have mentioned before, there is usually a monologue on the go from the moment I wake up until the moment I go to sleep – directed at God. I’d like to call it a dialogue but that infers the contribution of two people / beings / entities. God doesn’t usually talk back to me. Not yet, anyway.

But there are times that formalized prayer is comforting, and when it fills the void – when you don’t know what to say, or how to speak to Him from the heart. Rosh Hashana liturgy moves me – and it’s probably the only organized prayer that does.

But this year, this year standing in shul hearing the chazzan sing Unetaneh Tokef, and hearing him read “who will live and who will die” shook me to my foundations. There are several people in my life (or the periphery) who are very sick, and so dear to my heart. (I have written of Sam often – he’s a little boy battling leukemia. [Read his story here]). I looked around as we were reciting these words, and it seemed to me that the gravity of these paragraphs is no longer as strongly felt as it should be. I wanted to shake everyone – listen to what you are reading – concentrate!! Daven for those in your life that are sick. Take on a mitzvah to do in their merit so that they will get better.

This prayer ends with “and Repentance, Prayer and Charity can remove the evil decree”. How much, God, how much teshuva does one need to do? How much charity should one give, how much should one pray? How much is enough? A child who dies – did their family not pray enough? Was not enough tzedaka given on his/her behalf? Did the parents not beseech God saying they’d do anything if only their child’s life is saved?

If You decide who is going to die – take the evil ones, take the ones that have nothing good to contribute to this world. How can it be that you decide who is going to die, and how, and then you toss in – you can change it by doing these three things. How much, God, how much is enough to turn things around? Give us some parameters!! Or is it written in this way so that we should strive every moment of every day to be a better person, a better Jew, to give more charity, to pray more??

How do we know that what we are doing is enough, will be enough, to remove the decree of death? How do we accept that sometimes no matter what we do, it will never be enough?

I intended for this post to be about prayer, but I guess I am striving for answers where there are none that are revealed to us. Prayer isn’t just a string of words to mouth along with the chazzan. It is so much more than that. We need to focus on the words that are passing our lips, in so many different ways.

Post Written by


  1. Kat says:

    Death isn’t a punishment, it can’t be, because all things that live die. Our human frailty says I have to keep a child who is sick alive and with me because he/she is mine, I want him/her. But what if, the best thing is for that child to pass on, not as a punishment because enough wasn’t done, perhaps because that child was here to teach blessings in their illness, to teach prayer for the sick, to teach charity and to teach love. Without sickness we would not know that burning ache to pray with every fiber of our being, to surrender to G-d every burdon.

  2. Jack says:

    Every year I listen to Unantaneh Tokef and think of the people I know that just died because there are always a few and wonder about it.

    This year my friend lost both of his parents the week before the chag and I have really been thinking about it all.

    Shana Tova.

  3. tesyaa says:

    Sorry, but if God would let a sick kid die because some strangers and acquaintances didn’t daven hard enough, I’m not playing! Think about it.

Leave A Reply