Central to every service is the Amidah, the silent prayer, the prayer we say standing (and sometimes swaying with emotion and concentration) before our Master and the Creator of all things. Each weekday, Amidah is the central un-changing core of the 3 prayer times. Conversely, it is the change in the content of the Amidah which differentiates Shabbat from the rest of the week.
In a way, the Amidah is the drumbeat that makes up the weekly rhythm of Jewish life.
So it’s worth noting that Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur add an additional variation to the Amidah – a series of prayers that begin with the word “U’vechain”.
In his book “Living Beyond Time”, Rabbi Pinchas Stolper points out that this word usually is translated as “And so too…”.
- And so too, Lord our God, put awe upon all who You have Made…
- And so too, O Lord, grant honor to your people…
- And so too may the righteous see this and rejoice…
But Rabbi Stolper goes on to say that common Hebrew uses this word, but it translates to “And what do you plan to do about it?”
This is a powerful challenge to us as Jews living in the world, and as people who have spent the last month reflecting on our behavior and making corrections both within ourselves and within our community in preparation for our moment of judgement on Rosh Hashana.
“And what do you plan to do about it?”
This point is further driven home when we learn that “u’vechain” appears in exactly one other text – in the Megillah Esther. Mordechai tells Esther that she is the key to saving both herself and her people. “And what do you plan to do about it?” he asks.
With this understanding, we find – in the middle of the most central set of prayers – a challenge rather than a plea.
- And what do you plan to do about it, to ensure that Lord our God will put awe upon all who You have Made…
- And what do you plan to do about it, to ensure that God will grant honor to your people…
- And what do you plan to do about it, to ensure that the righteous see this and rejoice…
Our tradition reminds us that:
“It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it”
(Pirkei Avot 2:21)
As Jews, we believe that God is our partner; that we can call upon Him to help us. But we are also told that we have to dig in and start the work.
Standing as we are now on the other side of Rosh Hashana, with the spiritual purification of Yom Kippur bearing down on us in less than a week, it seems like a perfect time to ask ourselves:
And what do you plan to do about it?