Holy Day Terminology

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You may have never realized it but through its terminology, the Old Testament lays emphasis on setting goals. It seems as though God is expecting us to set goals for ourselves and try our best to hit them. Whatever your religious orientation be, you can learn a lot from the terminology for the word sin in the old testament or the use of Torah in the Jewish High Holy Days. Here is how.

The Terminology used for sin in Hebrew is ‘Chet’ that is actually associated with the sport of archery. There is no real word for sin in Hebrew. There are a few more terms used but none of them actually means sin. During the Jewish High Holy Days including both the New Year and the Day of Repentance, the terminology used is ‘al chet’ which actually means ‘the missed mark’. In archery terminology this means missing the target or the bull’s eye. The term ‘torah’ referring to the Old Testament scrolls also comes from archery and means to take aim. Hence, the Old Testament teaches through this terminology to take aim even though sometimes we miss the target.

So, why do we see archery terminology in the Old Testament, Judaism and Hebrew for important words like Torah and sin? Why is there an association of this terminology with taking an aim and missing or hitting the target? After all, Torah is Judaism’s sacred text and sin must not be taken lightly. The similarity lies between people repenting their wrongs and an archer missing the target.

Archery involves a target with the bull’s eye and the archer must practice till he/she can hit the bull’s eye. On the Day of Repentance, Jews look back at the year and see what targets they missed and check their practice to see if their aim was good. This is a period of introspection. During the Jewish New Year, new targets are set up and old ones are reexamined. This is also the time when kavanah or intention is set and the commitment is to try harder to hit the bull’s eye. This is the time to ask for forgiveness for all the marks that were missed, for not taking the aim, for not shooting well, for lack of practice and not hitting the mark the previous year.

If we understand this practice during the Jewish New Year, we will understand the use of archery terminology which is relevant to all religious backgrounds. God is telling us that sin is not merely failing to set goals but also in not commiting to achieve them. It is not in missing to hit the target, but sin is in not trying at all. If you set your target, aimed good, practiced and then missed it, God forgives you.

Think of this terminology this way, what would happen if you had no goals or resolutions or aspirations in life? You can never change or grow or ever accomplish without a goal. If you fail to live to your potential, it is a sin.

Your goals give you a quantifiable target and any religion’s New Year is a time to renew your resolutions.

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