Rosh Hashanah — “You Idiot!! You Didn’t Buy Enough Honey!!”

(This year, we will only blow the Shofar on Sunday.  Technically, we are permitted to blow the Shofar on the Sabbath.  Why don’t we?  See “The Silent Shofar”.)


“’Tis the season to eat honey!”   We dip apples and our Challah into it. It’s in our cakes and in our Teglach (false tooth and crown remover).  Why?

In addition, it is the “Pickle Free Season.”  In our quest for a sweet year, the codes of Jewish Law & Custom call upon us to consume all types of sweet foods (including fatty meats) and to avoid bitter foods made with vinegar.  We should eat lamb heads (or fish heads, or possibly even lettuce heads!) in the hope that we should be “…as a head (i.e. powerful) and not as a tail (weak).” (Deuteronomy, 28:13)

Many people have the custom on Rosh Hashanah night to engage in a veritable Seder of traditional foods whose names or properties suggest positive hopes for the coming year.  We eat pomegranates in the hope that we will be as filled with good deeds as the pomegranate is with seeds, and dates (“TAMar” in Hebrew) with the hope that  yiTAMu son’einu – our enemies will be consumed.  Carrots, (Mehren – “to increase” in Yiddish) indicate our prayer that our merits should increase.

Many communities developed Rosh Hashanah customs of their own.  Ukrainian Jews (ed. note:  my son happens to be in the Ukraine for Rosh Hashanah, as we speak!) had the custom of giving their children chicken livers on Rosh Hashanah.  The Yiddish words for “livers,” “liberlach,” suggests “leb erlich – live honestly.”

This is, to say the least, a little difficult to understand.  I don’t know about you, but a couple slices of honey cake (no, it’s never just one!) are all I need to knock my low-carb diet out of whack for days.  And there’s nothing sweet about that!

WHAT’S THIS ALL ABOUT??!  Why are we playing word-and-symbol games?  Rosh Hashanah is one of the most serious days of the year.  Our very lives lie in the balance.  Doesn’t it seem a bit superficial to try to stack the deck by eating positive sounding foods?  [Someone I know has even suggested eating a raisin cut in half together with some lettuce and some celery with the prayer of “Lettuce half-a-raisin celery.” – Read it a few times fast if you don’t get it yet.  :o)  ]

So what’s going on here?  Do these foods possess mystical powers, based upon their names or their physical attributes?  What’s this all about?


The emphasis is clearly not on the foods.  The Mishneh Berurah writes that when eating these foods, we should recite the appropriate prayer:  “May it be Your will, our G-d, and G-d of our fathers, that… (… our merits should increase, etc.)”  He adds that one should awaken within himself feelings of repentance, and recite these prayers with a full heart.

The Mishneh Berurah goes on to explain the importance of avoiding negativity.  When describing the avoidance of bitter foods, he writes:  “…  All of these practices are to serve as a positive sign.  It is, therefore, obvious that one must be extremely careful during these days to avoid getting angry (in addition to the great prohibition in general!) … Rather, one should have a happy heart, and should have faith in G-d with repentance and good deeds.”

In other words, it’s not the food, it’s the attitude.  Focus on the good.  Envision positivity.  Eat sweet, because life WILL be sweet.  Stay away from bitterness; we don’t want to think that way.

But why bother with the food at all?  Why don’t we just pray for sweetness?

I think it’s about sensitivity.  I think it’s about awareness.  It’s about paying attention to the consequences and ramifications of our actions.

I pay close attention to the food I eat making sure that it tastes sweet.  I should be equally certain to refrain from actions that will leave a less-than-sweet taste in someone else’s mouth.

Many people have the custom not to eat nuts on Rosh Hashanah because the numerical value of the Hebrew word for nut is the same as the word for sin.

Far-fetched, you say?  Okay, maybe.  But would that we would avoid so much as a hint of sin the way we avoid nuts on Rosh Hashanah.


Another thought.  Every month, on the last Shabbos of the month, we pray for a good month.  We ask for ” … a life of peace, a life of goodness, a life of blessing, a life of sustenance… a life in which our heartfelt requests will be fulfilled for the good…”

It has been pointed out that it seems superfluous to ask that our requests be fulfilled “FOR THE GOOD.” After all, isn’t that the only thing we pray for?  Would we ever dream of praying for something that’s not good?!

Unfortunately, the answer is yes.  All too often, we foolishly ask G-d for things that we really shouldn’t have.  (As the saying goes, be careful what you pray for; you may just get it!)  Built into our prayer is the disclaimer that if we have inadvertently requested something that is not in our best interest, we ask G-d to IGNORE that prayer and only fulfill our requests that are genuinely for our good.

Sometimes we are pained to see that things aren’t going the way we had hoped they would.  It is only later that we see and appreciate the kindness of His decisions.  By starting off the year with honey, we are, perhaps, asking G-d for the wisdom and insight to appreciate the genuine sweetness of everything He does.

My family joins me in wishing all of you, my dear readers, a happy, healthy, prosperous, and peaceful New Year.  My all of our lives be filled with the sweetness of G-d’s Providence.

Have a good Shabbos and a good Yom Tov.  May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz


“The Silent Shofar” (2002)

…Why is the Shofar silent? Is it because we can’t blow the Shofar on Shabbos? Yes and no. Technically, it is permitted to sound the Shofar on Shabbos. The Sages banned Shofar blowing on Shabbos because of a fear that someone might accidentally carry a Shofar in the street on Shabbos.

Amazing. Rosh Hashanah is the Yom HaDin, the Day of Judgment. G-d is deciding our fates for the coming year. Everything… who will live, and who will die; who will be healthy, who will be successful. We want to awaken G-d’s compassion toward us; we want to be inspired, we want to be protected by our Father in Heaven. There is so much to be gained by each and every one of us fulfilling the Biblical Mitzvah of hearing the blasts of the Shofar, and yet, we give it all up because maybe someone will do something careless?! …


This is the weekly message at Copyright © 2000-2009 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.


Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel ( and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.


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Published in: on September 17, 2009 at 9:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

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