Wondering if You’ll Live out the Year? Do this and Find Out

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Jessie: R. Ami says, ‘If you want to know if you're going to live through the year, light a lamp during the 10 days between Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur, in a house where there's no wind. If it continues to burn, you will complete your year (Horayos 12a).”

Can you provide a rational explanation so it’s not superstition [a fallacy, which is also forbidden]?

Rabbi: The gemara says further, “And when you study, study adjacent to a river of water; just as the water flows, your studies will flow.” This cannot be causative outside of natural law, as nothing exists other than nature. It must mean that certain physical stimuli engender specific positive attitudes, as the Rabbis teach that a depressed person should walk in the park, as natural beauty calms one’s nature. Similarly, flowing water engenders a “steady stream” or continuity in one's emotional state. This can apply to painting as well, not just Torah study. The uninterrupted flow naturally permeates one’s emotions. It is interesting, but this is God’s design of man: our emotions are affected in a like kind to the stimuli. 

A flickering flame is akin to something alive; we describe people who passed as “extinguished.” The gemara saying that this metaphor reinforces a certain attitude during the time when we are judged for life. The person who desires life takes a measure of concern to assure the flame will not be in a windy area; thereby, reflecting his true concern to act properly during the 10 days of repentance. That is, if one takes this measure to ensure the flame remains alight, it reflects his already existing concern for life, and he must be acting properly already. But its a reflection, not a causative phenomenon. One who lives properly will enjoy life another year even without this flame. So this is actually different than the stream, which does engender an attitude naturally.

Thus, these phenomena can either be causative (stream), or act as a barometer (flame). Perhaps also a flame is used as it keeps one mindful of his concern, day and night.