May You Be Inscribed and Sealed: K’tivah v’hatimah tovah!

Throughout these Days of Awe, stretching from the beginning of Rosh Hashana through Yom Kippur, Jews greet each other with the words “K’tivah v’hatimah tovah” – which we would render rather formally as “may you be inscribed and sealed (in the Book of Life).” But the Hebrew phrase actually carries a more casual nuance, akin to the popular way of saying farewell through the phrase “take care.” It would be more than a bit awkward if we said, instead, “may you see after your health and safety.” Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of the “K’tivah” greeting, though, is that it stems from the liturgy of the Days of Awe.

There are four various formulations of this wish in the Mahzor Amidah, and they are retained in every Amidah through the entire 10 Days of Repentance. In this season, we pull for each other, even as we aspire for our own personal inscription and seal in the Book. Likewise, the Confessional prayers of Yom Kippur — the Ashamnu and the Al Het — are formulated in the plural, to convey the notion of joint responsibility for the sins of the community. Interesting. Though the Sages taught that each of us is judged individually, “like a shepherd judges each of his or her flock,” the same Sages wrote the liturgy in plural form. What a brilliant way to “cover all the bases!” We shoulder a dual task during the High Holy Days: personal introspection, personal acts of righteousness, personal prayer.

At the same time, we remain ever aware that our personal destiny is bound with the community. Every person must do her or his part individually, for the good of all. K’tivah v’hatimah tovah!