As a Jew who has some familiarity with the history of his own people, I had ceased to admire the achievements of the ancient Romans by the time I was learning history in high school. The Rambam, however, chose to remind us that all cultures have some positive features and turning our backs on the good characteristics of any culture would be the equivalent of "throwing out the baby with the bathwater." Consider the next two paragraphs which I have borrowed from a historian of ancient mythology.
"Janus was the Roman god of beginnings and was regarded as the custodian of the universe. He was also the guardian of gates and doors. To the Roman he was lord over the first hour of every day, the first day of the month and January, the first month of the year (which was named after him). Two heads back to back represent Janus, each looking in opposite directions. His double-faced head appears on many Roman coins.
Although Janus was looked upon as the god of beginnings, it is clear from the engravings of the pagan deity found on ancient coins that this being was two-faced, with one head facing the old year, the other, the new. A valuable lesson, perhaps, can be drawn from this double-faced image.
Is it wise to begin a new year without reflecting upon what was done/ not done, should/should not have been done during the year that has passed?
Leaving aside for the moment that my new year's observance occurred three months ago on two days during which, as Jews we hopefully contemplated many of our deeds and misdeeds of the past year and resolved to do it better in úùñ"æ, I ponder the worn-to-death wish "Happy New Year" which in the Western world is not always synonymous with .ìùðä èåáä
Can we have a happy new year if the next twelve months are a rehash of the previous twelve? Naomi Regan--whose words I read avidly and sometimes agree with--has repeatedly bemoaned the State of Israel's imminent slide into disaster as our leaders learn nothing from their past errors and persist in pursuing policies which place our country closer to the abyss. She has also expressed the view that we are fast approaching the point of no return with regard to the concessions Israel is expected to make in the near future.
Yet there is hope. The youth with the knitted skullcaps (and the young women who defend the integrity of the entire Land of Israel alongside them) are not only the future of our community--they are the future of this country. The large families being raised in the settlements (and the future voters growing up therein) are the future hope of Israel.
The doors of Janus' temple in Rome were kept open in wartime and closed during brief periods of peace. (The Romans, because of their penchant for conquest by way of war, rarely saw those doors closed). Janus' heads, however, were consistent--always turned away from each other.
this image…with this one…
The first image is, of course, old Janus. The two heads remind me of the old verse "and never the twain shall meet."
The other three pics are artists' representations of the cherubim on top of the Ark of the Covenant.
Both the upper right and lower left show the cherubim facing one another when our ancestors were performing the Commandments sincerely. When our people were in serious violation of the letter and spirit of the Law, the cherubim turned away from one another(lower right).
In effect, the direction in which the cherubim faced was determined by us. Likewise, the next twelve months can be happy and productive, but only if we throw a glance backwards and learn from our errors.
Recall that as much as Joseph wanted to begin afresh with his brothers, he first had to test them in order to determine whether their past behavior was still guiding their current actions. Before Joseph could begin what he hoped would be a reconciliation with his family, he had to look back to see if the past was going to be repeated at some time in the future.
Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers
In this respect perhaps we can derive a lesson from both Janus and the Cherubim (but please don't fly off the handle and accuse me of putting both on the same level). Yes, the past can be put to rest, but only if what went wrong in the past is prevented from being repeated. Sadly, I am inclined to agree with Carolyn Glick that Ehud Olmert "still doesn't get it."
P.S. I cannot fathom why January 1st in Israel has been
nicknamed after the fellow below (left), considering who he was and what he represented.
Before I came to live in Israel, however, there was only one Sylvester in my life . . . and I didn't think of him as synonymous with January 1.