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Wednesday, September 20

The Weekly Shtikle - Rosh HaShanah

One of the practices that seems to get considerable attention on Rosh HaShanah is the eating of the simanim on Rosh HaShanah. There are, of course, varying customs. Some only eat an apple dipped in honey. Conversely, many Sefardim have the custom to eat far more simanim than the average Ashkenazi is accustomed to.

 

The practice is already discussed in the gemara. The gemara (Kerisus 5b) initially lists a number of different practices which seem very much like superstitions although they appear to be permitted. They include trying to grow a chicken in one's house before embarking on a business venture as the fattening of the chicken is a harbinger of success. The final suggestion of the gemara pertains to someone who is about to embark on a journey and would like to know whether they will return successfully. They are instructed to enter a deserted house and see if they observe converging shadows. However, the gemara concludes that one should not do this because the test might not prove successful and even though it is necessarily a bad omen, he will be distraught and his emotional state might affect his mazal.

 

After all that, Abaye states, "Now that we have said that omens are significant, one should make a habit of eating gourds, dates, etc. on Rosh HaShanah." The conventional understanding seems to be that Abaye is basing his statement on the various suggestions given in the gemara relating to good "signs."  However, there is a difficulty with this approach. The procedures discussed in the gemara involve observing the outcome of a certain event and that outcome would then be an indication of what lies ahead. On Rosh HaShanah, we are merely creating the omens on our own. (It is possible, though, that Abaye is referring to the gemara's initial statement that kings should always be anointed by a spring so that his kingdom will spread.)

 

Rather, I believe Abaye may well have been basing his statement on the very last point made in the gemara, that one should not rely on the sign of the shadows since it is possible that his own troubled state could contribute to his bad mazal. From here we see that one's state of mind can directly affect his own welfare and the events that befall him. Therefore, Abaye suggests eating these specific foods - not because the eating of the foods will in and of itself be a good omen, but rather, that the eating of these foods with positive signs will put one in a more positive state of mind at the onset of the new year and that will in turn positively influence his mazal.

 

The Meiri (Horayos 12a) explains the concept of simanim on Rosh HaShanah in a similar vein. I have made a scan of the Meiri available here.

 

So, as we will probably all say tonight, may we all have a happy, healthy sweet new year.


Have a Shanah Tovah and good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

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