Rabbi’s Reflections – Sunday, December 29, 2019
Shavuah Tov *|FNAME|*,

Before Looking Forward to 2020, Look Back at 2019

INTRODUCTION: In a few days, we will begin the new year of AD 2020.  Some people may greet a new year with hope; other people, with self-examination. I give three historical examples:

ROMAN MYTHOLOGY– JANUS: Consider the Roman god Janus. (Greek mythology had no counterpart for Janus.) I do not worship Greek, Roman, or other pagan gods and goddesses. I do not suggest that you worship pagan deities, either. I use Janus as an example of this RR’s title.

In Roman mythology, Janus was busy, being the god of beginnings and endings; gates and doorways; transitions; time; duality; and passages. Statues of Janus depicted him with two faces– one facing forward, the other backward. Why two faces? Since this god supposedly saw both the future and the past, he needed  to look in two directions.

With this ability, Janus could see the beginning and the ending of an endeavor. For example, he could see both war (present, past) and the peace that would follow (future). He was the god of gates and doorways, seeing the paths taken to and from an entrance. And so forth.

Our month of January (the month bridging the past year and the next year) is named for Janus.  As with the mythological Janus, I suggest we should be “two faced” – one face turned to 2020 and years that will follow and the other face turned to the past (how we arrived at 2020).

ANCIENT JUDAISM– YOM KIPPUR (THE DAY OF ATONEMENT): Yom Kippur was the holiest, most solemn religious feast of the Jewish year. Yom Kippur culminated ten days of penitence which began with Yom Teruah (also called Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish Civil New Year).

Although we Believers have a different understanding of our relationship with God and each other, Jewish doctrine held that God inscribed each person’s fate for the coming year in the Book of Life on Rosh Hashanah. He waited ten days until Yom Kippur to determine whether to seal the verdict.

During the Days of Awe, also called the Days of Repentance (the ten days extending between Yom Teruah and Yom Kippur), a faithful Jew tried to amend his/ her behavior and seek forgiveness for wrongs done against God (mitzvot bein adam lemakom – meaning literally, “commandments between Adam and the (other) place”) and against other human beings (mitzvot bein adam lechavero – meaning literally, “commandments between Adam and his friends”).  The evening and day of Yom Kippur were set aside for public and private petitions and confessions of guilt. By the end of Yom Kippur, a faithful Jew hoped that God had forgiven his/ her sins.

We Believers are confident that God will forgive confessed and repented sin (1 John 1:9): If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Yom Kippur was a time to reflect on past sins– that is, not acting appropriately before God and neighbors– and to resolve to be a better person in the coming year. Such reflection was a time intended to bring Teshuva for past sins. Teshuvah, often translated “repentance,” more appropriately is translated “a turning to God.” Teshuvah involved four steps (some say as many as six steps). Yeshua’s formula for sin forgiveness is similar to Teshuvah.

Ancient Jews could rely on such Scriptures as Jeremiah 3:12: “Go and proclaim these words… ‘Return,* backsliding Israel,’ says the LORD; ‘I will not cause My anger to fall on you. For I am merciful,’ says the LORD; ‘I will not remain angry forever.’” [* “Return” translates the Hebrew shuv, from which Teshuvah is derived.]

The four-step Teshuvah plan follows:

** Regret (Hebrew charata) – regret is a sense of loss– loss that the person had the opportunity to please God and neighbors, but words or actions caused him/ her to lose that opportunity. Regret should instill the sense of a sincere emotion that someone had been hurt by his/ her words or actions.

** Abandonment, ceasing (Hebrew aziva) – as part of regret, the person realizes he/ she had abandoned a friend, neighbor, relative, or God’s will for his/ her life. What caused the person to abandon those loved, and how can the person avoid the same mistake in the future? The restitution process– the turning back to God (Teshuvah) – required that the harmful words or actions cease.

** Confession, restitution (Hebrew vidduy) – “I’m sorry” are sometimes the two most difficult words to say. To stand before God or a neighbor and confess a personal shortcoming (sin) tears down the outer shell of defensive protection of whom the person is or wants to seem to be. Admission that a wrong has been committed and that a person is at fault for that wrong is an essential first step in turning back to God.

** Resolution (Hebrew kabalah) – To be effective and meaningful, true confession (“I’m sorry”) should be accompanied by a promise of repentance (“I’ll try not to do this again”). This step is the essence of a Jew’s Teshuvah– turning back to God– or repentance of a Believer/ Christian. Many Bible verses explain that we, who follow God, must repent (turn away from sin, turn toward God) and try not to commit that sin again.

Rabbi’s note:  Literally, “Kabalah” means “welcome.”  This resolution step involves a welcome return to the good graces of the offended party (God or man).  End RN.

MODERN TIMES– NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS: Some people make New Year’s resolutions. (I made a New Year’s resolution many years ago to never make a New Year’s resolution because I knew I probably would never keep any resolutions I make. So far, I have kept that resolution not to make resolutions.) Forty to 45 percent of Americans claim they make New Year’s resolutions, according to: https://proactivemindfulness.com/resolutions/statistics.htm. I am surprised this number is so high. The top three topics for resolutions are to lose weight, exercise more, and stop smoking. After six months, 46 per cent of those making resolutions say they are still trying to keep the resolutions.

COMMON THEMES: In these three examples, there are common themes (namely, looking back into the past to understand wrong things in life and, then, looking forward into the future to correct these shortcomings):

** Roman mythology– Janus worship: To look forward to a new beginning (including a new year), a person should recall what happened in the past to cause him/ her to arrive at a less-than-ideal point in life.

** Judaism– Yom Kippur: Serious reflection of times in the past year when the person strayed from God’s will or hurt another person was used to turn around (repent) and take a better path, so that God and others might not be offended.

** Modern secular practice– New Year’s resolutions: Seeing what has caused misery or concern in life is necessary to develop a future plan of correction.

An oft-quoted aphorism, attributed to author and philosopher George Santayana, is: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” These three examples involve persons recalling the past and taking measures not to repeat the past in order to make a better future.

FINALLY– A LESSON FROM THE LOWLY PEA: Linda and I wish everyone at Shomair a joyful, prosperous, happy, and healthy 2020. Although times may be trying and will likely worsen, know that the best (Heaven) is yet to come.

For those of you who have moved to the South and have not fully adopted  southern culture, you need to know a southern tradition. On New Year’s Day, many southerners eat black-eyed peas. (This tradition supposedly brings good luck in the next year, or something equally nonsensical.) New Year’s Day– or any day– is a good excuse to eat black-eyed peas, though, whether good luck does or does not follow.

Rabbi’s note:  May I also add “hoppin’ John” to the nonsensical superstitions.  This involves a blend of rice, onion and the black-eyed peas mentioned above.  https://www.southernliving.com/recipes/classic-hoppin-john-recipe  Feel free to skip the bacon or ham hock.  End RN.

Let me brag on God. I suspect when God was working as Creator, He may have “showed off” some to combat any boredom. He may have made some things extra special. The black-eyed pea seems to be an extra special creation, I believe. When my wife cooks a meal of these glorious peas, kale greens, and cornbread, I can almost hear choirs of angels singing. No king has ever had a finer meal than one with only these three items. Seriously, my northern friend, you will thank me later for introducing you to black-eyed peas.

In thinking about the humble meal I just described, it reminds me that God can use the most humble things for great works. The little black-eyed pea is nothing special, until cooked and enjoyed for the wonder it is.

Bible “heroes” were ordinary men and women who were nothing special, until God touched them and used them for the wonder they became. An example is an ordinary lad (David), who became a hero because God chose to use him (1 Samuel 16:7): But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature,…. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”