The Books Are Opened

When img_7423Moshe had finished writing the words of this law in a book to the very end, Moshe commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of Hashem, “Take this Book of the Torah and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of Hashem your G-d, that it may be there for a witness against you[1].”

Before Moshe began constructing the Mishkan[2], he was told, You shall erect the tabernacle according to the plan for it that you were shown on the mountain[3]. So, if he was to create the Tabernacle according to everything he saw on the mountain, why is he placing his sefer Torah next to the Mercy Seat in the holiest place? He asked the Leviim to place it there because he saw it there on the mountain.

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done[4].

Traditionally, we believe G-d opens the books on Rosh Hashanah, and they are closed at the end of Yom Kippur.

What are the books[5]?

  • [Idea #1]: The books are The Book of the Righteous and The Book of the Wicked. Those who are wicked are written in the latter and those who are righteous are written in the former. Related to this, a third book of the not-quite righteous yet not-quite wicked are written in another, to give them a chance to make up their mind, so to speak.
  • [Idea #2]: The books are The Book of the Living and The Book of the Dead.

The book of Torah, which Moshe placed before the Mercy Seat is duplicated in Heaven. Our deeds are judged according to this book.

Traditionally understood, The Book of the Living is opened and those who are living are judged according to their influence on humanity. Next, The Book of the Dead, or perhaps it could be called The Book of the No-Longer Living is opened, and their impact on the living is judged.

Before one can claim judging those who are no longer living is stupid, let me ask you a simple question. How has your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, or even siblings affected your life for the better? Even more dramatic, how many times a day does Rashi, Rambam, Ramban, Sforno, or Hillel, help someone study Torah? I think it’s safe to assume that each of these deceased rabbis have a more profound effect on the world than any living rabbi.

This method of looking at the Books allows us to reflect on our actions in a slightly different way. Most of the mitzvot[6] of Torah are commands designed to stem negative impact of our selfishness on the world. We need to look at our lives in respect to its positive influence on others. If we have no positive influence on others, what good are we? It’s better we live a slightly tarnished life that provides some godly influences on others.

May our positive impact on others be inscribed in the book of the living before Hashem.

Shanah tova.

[1] Deuteronomy 31:24-26

[2] Tabernacle, Tent of Meeting

[3] Exodus 26:30

[4] Revelation 20:11-12

[5] b.Rosh Hashanah 16b, b.Berachot 6a

[6] Heb. commands


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