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Pomegranate, Hod Hasharon. Israel.photo by Rhonda Spivak

 


ROSH HASHANA AND THE FIVE SPECIES

[Editor’s note: Aliza Cohen, is a graduate of Ohr Hatorah Day School who studied in Israel for grades 9-11 at Ulpanat Darcei Noam. She now attends Grant Park High School.]

by Aliza Cohen, Grade 12, September 5, 2010


A new year, a new beginning, a day of judgement and resolution. This is Rosh Hashanah, the day that calls us to reflect and repent.  Rosh Hashanah is a day of significance and for every prayer we say, and every food we eat, there are a multitude of explanations as to why we do so.

After mentioning a series of major symbols, the Talmud continues with the following discussion:

“Abaye taught: Now that you have said that each symbol is significant, each person should habituate himself to eat at the beginning of the year, gourds (e.g. cucumbers, pumpkins), fenugreek (a form of legume), leeks, beets, and dates.”

The symbolism of these five species is explained in two ways. Some of them (such as the pomegranate) grow and ripen early and rapidly,  and thus represent increased merits,  while others are of a sweet taste, obviously representing a sweet new year. 

The first night of Rosh Hashanah is an indication of faith, aspiration, and trepidation that preludes the New Year.  This is followed by a full menu that represents the meaning of man’s intentions throughout the following year, and what he hopes to behold.  The first course of the traditional Rosh Hashanah meal is the head of a ram or a fish, to represent our hopes of achieving the status of the ‘head’ of society, rather than it’s ‘tail’.  The head is also meant to evoke thoughts of how G-d helped Isaac through the hand of a ram when he lay upon his father’s altar.  Fish,  too, is a symbol of abundance, and we pray that our numbers increase like the fish.  However, the Jews of Iraq refrained from eating fish because the Hebrew word for fish is ‘dag’, and it is very similar to the Hebrew word of ‘da’agah’, which means worry and anxiety.

A well known custom on Rosh Hashanah is dipping apples in honey.  There are two different approaches as to why we do this.  According to the first approach, an apple has three qualities of taste, appearance, and fragrance.  So, too, the Jew desires three major gifts from G-d throughout the year, righteous children, longevity, and plenty.  Another explanation is that we sincerely hope that our fate with be sweet.

The numerous vegetables that we eat are also important.  Many people eat peas because they too represent plenty, like the pomegranate.  Leeks are eaten because the root of the Hebrew word is ‘karti’, similar to the word ‘karet’, to excise.  With this vegetable we pray that our enemies are exterminated.  For the same reason we eat beets, which symbolize the same image.  Dates are another favourite because the implication is that the influence of our enemies comes to an end.  Finally, in some homes pumpkin is served to represent tears and that any unfavourable decree should be destroyed at the last minute.

May this year be a strong one, a year filled with health and happiness, blessing and faith.  As it says during the Rosh Hashanah prayers, “Give us a sweet year.  Give us a healthy year.  Give us a successful year.  Our Father, our King, be gracious to us.”

 
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.


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