By Ari Leubitz | Atlanta Jewish Academy
Quoting the third century Abbaye, the Talmud states: “Now that it has been agreed that signs are significant, a person should make a regular habit of eating symbolic foods at the beginning of the year.”
On Erev Rosh Hashanah, after saying Kiddush, based on this passage from the Talmud, many have a custom of eating various foods as part of the evening meal. Each type of food in this meal represents an aspect of our wishes and desires for the upcoming year. These symbolic foods signify our optimism and hope for the new year.
While this custom is beautiful, it also demonstrates that we are able to find the seeds of hope and desire even in simple things like fruits, vegetables and honey. However, I raise a question: What does it mean that symbols are “significant”?
On the first night of Rosh Hashanah, each of us, in our own unique way, is thinking about the future, praying that starting the year with positive intentions will lead to positive results.
Rosh Hashanah brings with it a sense of newness, as we are all brimming with optimism and hope. There is inspiration all around us; we just need to be tuned in to feel it.
The truth is, to feel the inspiration, the nostalgia and the awe of the day is not particularly challenging. We spend the week leading up to the holiday exchanging good wishes with family and friends as we anticipate hearing the special melodies of Rosh Hashanah. The anticipation and the energy are almost palpable.
While the energy and inspiration are majestic, all too often these hopes and dreams diminish in the days ahead as we lose the ability to evoke this very moment of inspiration. Symbolic representations are significant, which means that these small, symbolic acts are also significant. When taken sincerely, these symbols or rituals can create gateways through time, allowing us to recall the very moment of our heightened inspiration.
The message is that first we need to internalize our feelings of hope to tap into as an inspiration to change.
With these moments secured in our mind, we can use the rituals of Rosh Hashanah as a conduit to bring us back to the time when our optimism and our hopes were at their peak. The Satmar Rav wrote that the purpose of the High Holidays is to allow us to experience G-d and feel inspired so that we will have a goal to strive for during the remainder of the year.
But it is not only about our own growth. If we are able to harness this energy and inspiration beyond that initial moment of hope and allow it to continue over the next few days, with the help of G-d we will be able to extend this energy to our families, throughout Rosh Hashanah and, please G-d, throughout the year.
May we all be blessed to fill ourselves and others with powerful and effective reminders of optimism and hope not just this new year, but throughout the upcoming year.