The Rosh Hashannah Simanim, Is Certainly ‘Soul food’ Both Literally and Symbolically.
Throughout the history of mankind and across all cultures, symbols have been used to express an awareness of the Creator and the creative forces that benefit mankind. These expressions resulted in symbolic stories known as myths, legends or folklore, which have been passed down to express abstract and / or moral ideas, such as truth, righteousness, honor, love, wisdom, forgiveness and courage.
Our prophets and sages are not exempt from such innate human nature in expressing the importance of spiritual refinement, victory over our foes and obtaining a closer relationship with our Creator.
The prophet Yeshiyahu/Isaiah told his student named Barukh ben Neriya, ‘When you finish reading this letter (scroll or book), tie a stone onto it and cast it into the Euphrates and declare, ‘So shall Bavli sink into oblivion!’ – Isaiah 51,63.
It is the same with Elisha ha-navi (the prophet), when he told the king to shoot after touching his bow, and the king shot three times. Immediately afterwards Elisha said, ‘this is an arrow of salvation for G-d, an arrow of salvation against Aram’. -2 Kings 13,17. This is also repeated when we sit at a Pesah seder, Tu B’Shevat, Sukah, etc. Our holy days are replete with high spiritual symbolism. We often call the acts of symbolism, rituals. Indeed, a ritual can be passed down as a family tradition, or as a community halakhic ruling i.e. minhag (custom).
The Simanin (symbols) of Rosh HaShannah
Rosh HaShanna is no different than any other Yom Tov (Holy Day): it has its own ‘seder’ or order of symbols, which are expressed using a selection of foods as taught and explained by our sages.
“Rabbi Abaye said, Now that it has been told that omens are of significance, for a man should make a regular habit of eating on Rosh HaShanna. -Bavli Talmud, Horayoth 12a (Babylon Talmud)
- Karah= pumpkin or squash
- Rubya= Fenugreek
- Karti = Leeks
- Silka = Spinach
- Tamri = Dates
Additionally, in the Bavli Talmud (Babylonian Talmud), Masekhta Keritoth, the same is said, but the only difference is that this passage speaks of gazing at these foods, instead of eating them. Our sages say that this teaches, even if one could not take part by eating, they have still fulfilled the miswah by gazing at them, however they must say a blessing to seal the miswah.
Soul Food in America
As a child in the America, I remember smoked black eyed peas, spinach, savory leeks (which are often found in stews), and squash also being favorite dishes among African-American people in the United States. I also remember the butternut squash pie. And, let’s not forget the fried fish and apple pie. For desserts, dates, almonds and pecan pies were also sweet favorites found among the dishes of the American South (Note, it is a custom of the Ashqenazim i.e. European Jews to refrain from eating nuts during the Days of Awe or Yomim Noraim).
These foods are also traditionally found among Southern African-Americans, even after migrating out of the South to other areas of the United States, and are also commonly found in Rosh HaShannah recipes among Jews, symbolizing G-d’s redemption for Israel.
- On the fenugreek and/or black eyed peas we pray in hopes of our merits will increase,
- On the leeks we say, ‘may our enemies be lower than the earth’,
- On the Spinach we say, ‘may all of our enemies vanish, this includes our yeser hara’ (evil inclinations),
- On the dates we say ‘may our enemies cease’,
- On the squash/pumpkin we say, ‘may any ill decree be overturned because of the merits of our forefathers
- On the pomegranates we say, ‘may our merits be as plentiful as the seeds of this fruit’
- On the lamb’s head, goat’s head or fish head we say, ‘may we be the head and not the tail’,
- On the apples, we dip them in honey as we say, ‘may the new year be sweet for us’.
Sin and redemption from exile
It is because of our sins, that we have suffered from four exiles, awaiting the redemption of our G-d. However, the scripture tells us that G-d’s portion are His people. The Ben Ish Hai z”l, taught homiletically, that ‘amo’ (His people) can be expressed as ‘imo’ (with Him). -Yammim Shalom: Meaning that Hashem’s portion is with Israel/Ya’akov, and the same is for Ya’akov’s inheritance, which is G-d. Since G-d is eternal and we are His lot, then the people of Israel are also eternal. You see, being in exile, is being in a state of a need to search out and to yearn for G-d’s divine Presence, and we will ultimately fulfill our purpose, by learning from our misdeeds, repenting and becoming a light to the nations.
Appropriately, HaShem meted out punishment and/or a lesson for our own good, and as Yeshiyahu ha-navi (Isaiah the prophet) said, so that our soul would offer itself as a restitution, that we may see our children, prolong and the length of our days, and that the purpose of HaShem might prosper by Israel’s hand. – Yeshiyahu (Isaiah) 53,10.
So, as we eat on this day, symbolically, we remember our sins, our purpose and our lot. Even in this G-d is with us, for we are not alone,
“Do not fear, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your G-d. I strengthen you, I helped you, I even now, I support you with the right hand of My righteousness.” Yeshiyahu 41,10.
As we eat or gaze at the food of ‘redemption’, let it nourish our and strengthen us, as we remember and pray that our souls will receive the salvation of our G-d, and that the messiah may come speedily in our days. Indeed these foods are good for the soul. A good year to you all, hazzaq barukh & Shalom.
This article is dedicated to Rav Yosef Shalom Katan (Rabbi Katano) of blessed memory, and his family.