Signs and Symbols for Rosh Hashanah
By Bessie Krapfman
Often I am asked about foods which we eat on Rosh Hashanah. Since each holiday and festival has its special food that combines tradition with taste, it is only reasonable to expect that on Rosh Hashanah too, we would have traditional temptations. Rosh Hashanah is different. It is not so much what you eat on Rosh Hashanah, but how you eat.
We could say that eating the apple that is dipped in honey symbolizes Rosh Hashanah. The apple dipped in honey symbolizes a sweet year. After we dip the apple in honey and we make the proper blessing on the apple to thank G-d for his benevolence, we partake of the sweetness and request from G-d that he renew us for a sweet year.
The apple is the first of many signs that we utilize. What we do on Rosh Hashanah is not so much the type of food that sets this holiday apart, but what we do with it.
Each different foodstuff that we eat, we try to make "simmonim" out of them. A "simmonim" (plural) or "simon" (singular) is really a symbol that we use to help us get a good decree for the New Year. Like a sign or indication from heaven, the "simmonim" work to bring out our special mazel for the next year and change a pending difficult heavenly decree.
What we want from the New Year is that it be pleasant. Therefore as we partake of the meal we make signs and symbols of a pleasant year. When we eat the customary bread, the challah, we also dip it into honey to reference our eating towards this coming sweet year.
We add on to the above-mentioned many of our own "simmonim". These "simmonim" are taken from two sources. One source of the traditional "simmonim" are the Hebrew or Aramaic language, and the other is the from our own English language. This is the source of our new modern "simmonim".
An example of the "simmonim" that we take from Hebrew and Aramaic are carrots. A carrot, which in Hebrew is "gezer", has the same meaning as a "decree". Therefore we take the carrot in out hands and before we take a bite from it, we beseech G-d that he tear up the "roah ha-gezera" (the bad decree). That is how the "simmonim" work.
Another word, "kra" which is Aramaic for squash is also used. "Kra" which is Aramaic has a meaning in Hebrew, "to tear". Therefore we take the squash and we beseech G-d again that he should "kra roah ha-gezera", that he should "tear up" any bad decree.
Another food that is eaten is the pomegranate. The pomegranate has many cells in which the fruit surrounds the many seed. So we ask G-d to increase our merit like the pomegranate (which has many seeds).
Therefore we can see that it is not so much what you eat on Rosh Hashanah, but how you eat it.
In addition to the above, there is also some sort of vegetable that is called "rubia" which is something like a string bean. The word "rubia" which is Aramaic is similar to the word in Hebrew, "rabu" which means, "increase". Being that this is the case, we are to take the "rubia" and ask G-d to grant us increase. I really don't know what this is so sometimes we use string beans and sometimes we don't. In Israel they sell a small white bean that has a dark dot. The custom is that this is "rabu".
Another "simmon" is "kartie". "Kartie" is a leek (a thick long green onion) that is delicious when cooked in a soup - so that is where we put it! "Kartie" being an Aramaic word sounds like the Hebrew word, "korat", which means to "cut off". Therefore we beseech G-d that he should cut off or cut down out enemies.
What many people do not know is that we are supposed to make up our own "simmonim" in our native language. My sister-in-law is very strict to make certain that there is a stick of celery and some raisins on the table. She always takes the celery together with the raisins and loudly requests of G-d that he give us all a "raise in our salary". That is always good for a few laughs, but this is really what we are supposed to do, laughs aside.
Another food that is traditional to have is the head of an animal. Can you imagine me putting the head of an ox or ram on the table! My husband is really against that so we tried many years ago to use the head of fish. The kids thought that this was a great idea and started to grab for the eyes. My husband nearly plotzed from the thought of eating an eyeball. Each year he pleads with me not to serve it, but between speaking to the kids and their growing up, the eyeball bingeing has stopped. The purpose of having a "head" on your table is not to turn your stomach, but that we should use it as a "simmon"; we pray to G-d that we be the head and not the tail.
It is important to make up your own "simmonim" on the food that you eat. In doing so, you show to G-d that even though you are sitting at the dinner table and eating, your mind is always on him and the importance of the day.
Remember, it is not so much what you eat on Rosh Hashanah, but how you eat it!
In addition, we are supposed to have "fat" meat to eat. The truth is that with our cholesterol problems, we eliminated that a while back. Since my husband is "allergic" to fish and animal heads, we always try to acquire a tongue for Rosh Hashanah. The tongue is a tasty and special piece of meat that we rarely purchase. Once a year I can blow the budget to honor the holiday. Don't we say that G-d picks up the tab for what we spend on the Sabbath and Holydays? So, it is His problem to pay for it, not mine and we seem to manage fine.
Utilizing the tongue for "simmonim", we are able to make two requests. One, since it comes from the head, we request from G-d that we be the head and not the tail. Secondly, since it is the tongue, which in Hebrew is "lashon", we beseech G-d again, that we not speak "lashon haraah", evil speech.
All of the above is about what we eat. But there are two things we do not eat on Rosh Hashanah. They are vinegar and nuts. Vinegar, we do not use, since we do not want to come in contact with sour tastes, which are negative signs. Nuts we do not eat since they remain in the mouth and make one clear their throat often, which is a bother during the important prayer services. Also nuts in Hebrew have a numerical equivalent to sin, and we want to stay away from any closeness to sin.
You may be asking your self why is it that we make "simmonim" on certain items like the apple, but on other items like vinegar, we do not. It would seem that we should utilize also the bitter tasting foods like horseradish to wish our enemies a bitter year! The answer is that when we come across a good thing it is a good "simmon" for ourselves. Sometimes it is a good sign for us, other times it shows a bad omen for our ememies. But if we were to taste a bitter food, it would mean a bad sign for us. The name just is indicative upon whom it falls.
It is also customary to make a "lechaim", wishing others a good life, but we must be careful not to overdo the alcohol since this is still a day of judgment and not given over to merry making or silliness.
Either way you make your "simmonim", just remember, on Rosh Hashanah it is not what you eat, but how you eat it. Eat your food by making a "simmon" on it and you will be certain that you are inscribed for a great year.
from the September-October 2004 Edition of the Jewish Magazine