Are Omens Real?

Rabi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Jessie: Can you rationally explain this gemara below so it's not nichush—superstition?

Horayos 12a:

“R. Ami: 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.”

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. So it must mean that certain physical stimuli engender specific positive attitudes. “Flowing” water apparently engenders a “stream” or continuity in one’s emotional state. This can apply to painting as well, not just Torah study. And a flame is like something alive; we describe people who pass as “extinguished.” So he's saying this metaphor reinforces a certain attitude during the time when we are truly 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 behave during the 10 days of judgment. 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. It is 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 be a barometer (flame). Perhaps also a flame is used as it keeps one mindful of his concern day and night.

Omens exist only in our minds. But the world works through natural cause and effect laws. Superstitions have never been validated. They are born from one's insecurities, the same applies to idolatry...the worst sin.  Thus, soothing water can affect our mood and productivity; psychological reality does exist. But a flame cannot elongate our lives in a causative manner, as there is no relationship between a flame and one's lifespan. But, as God does in fact judge all humans each year during this 10-day period, our actions can merit God's providence. God, then, is the elongater of life, not the flame.