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Sticking to your Resolutions


If we have learned anything over the past couple of years, it is the realization that there is very little in this world that we can actually control. People seem to have a natural curiosity and, at times, an obsessive desire to foresee events before they transpire and to control the forces that impact our lives. The reality is that we are not prophets, we do not have the capacity to peer into the future, nor control events before they unfold.

However, in a rather cryptic and enigmatic statement, the Gemara in tractate Horayot 12a seems to offer a practical way for those whose curiosity regarding their personal fate in the year ahead gets the better of them:

Rabbi Ami said:

A person who seeks to know if he will complete his year or not [i.e. whether or not he will remain alive in the coming year], let him light a lamp, during the ten days that are between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, in a house in which wind does not blow. If its light continues to burn, he knows that he will complete his year.

R. Ami is not necessarily prescribing a gimmicky method, which could be easily employed by anyone seeking to determine how much time they may have left in this world.  But rather, possibly, R. Ami is trying to convey a profound message. Rav Yitzchak Stollman (1897-1980) in his Minchat Yitzchak (pg. 239) offers an insightful interpretation.

While we would all love to know that we will survive the year ahead, R. Ami is providing us with the tools to anticipate if our resolutions will survive the coming year.  If we want our New Year’s resolutions to be sustained and carried through the weeks and months ahead, we must be thoughtful and strategic. We need to recognize the “winds” which so often conspire to extinguish the candles which were so passionately kindled on Rosh HaShanah.  Every person faces their unique challenges and temptations. If we are to be successful in securing the survival of our resolutions throughout the year, then we must be mindful of the particular threats and challenges that would prevent our resolutions from materializing and figure out how to neutralize them.