Tzedakah va Chessed: A Prayer for the High Holy Days

It is the high holidays
In prayer and song we fill our mouths with these harsh consonants
Their enigmatic poetry
Sounds like anything but what it means;
Tzedakah: true righteousness, not self-righteousness but merciful responsiveness.
Chessed: lovingkindness, compassion

We ask these qualities from the source of all life and blessings
We pledge them in return to each other;
Faith reminds us: they are what humanity owes itself.

Maimonides says:
‘Live as though you know your life, all life, the world, is balanced on the very edge.
One act, every act, tips us all
Into doom and destruction
Into hope and life.'

God, this is so true
So terribly true now.
These days, the New Year,
The Day of Atonement, they point us inescapably
To that fertile crescent of humanity,
All the heritage we owe that rich trove of faiths there
All the present strife there in which we are inextricably bound.

Tzedakah, Chessed,
These are not only the values of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but also Ramadan.
We pray because we are unequal to the day.
We pray for the perception and ability to change the world.
We pray for the nation of Israel,
May it transcend its fear.
May it live into the best of its heritage and aspiration.
We pray for Lebanon
May it find renewal and live in peace with its neighbors.
For all nations, there and elsewhere, struggling in the maze of History
And generations of prejudice,
To find a way through to peace.
Across this riven world, the struggles are all the same
Avarice and fear and brutality, against
Sacrifice and patience and compassion.

Avinu Malkeinu,
O Author of love and of truth,
O Fountain of grace, halelu
O Ground of compassion,
Incline to us, answer us
Ever, we yearn unto you.


--by the Rev. Elizabeth Lerner
Minister, Unitarian Universalist Church of Silver Spring, MD
and past president, Unitarian Universalists for Jewish Awareness


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