Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Rosh HaShanah 5632 First Ma'amar

There is a popular custom to eat specific fruits and vegetables on the night of Rosh HaShanah. Each food represents some specific thing that we want for the coming year.[*] When contemplating this custom one is struck by the difference between the custom and the actual prayers of Rosh HaShanah. Whereas the foods that we customarily eat represent the requests that we would ask of God, the actual prayers do not even contain a hint of these requests. Why not simply insert the requests into the prayers?

The reason we do not find requests in the Rosh HaShanah prayers is because the Zohar says that we do not ask for material things on Rosh HaShanah. The thrust of the Rosh HaShanah prayers is to attain a closer relationship with God. We ask that God should place His awe upon all His works. We ask that He rule over us directly instead of through intermediaries. We want to come close to Him. On Rosh HaShanah we proclaim His Kingship over all. This is the point of the Rosh HaShanah prayers.

Since requests for material things are purposely omitted from the Rosh HaShanah prayers, why is it permitted to ask in the form of a symbol? The Sfas Emes explains. God created everything with symbolic meaning that we can use in our service to Him. The Zohar calls this "remiza dechachmesa/hint of wisdom." We can look at every thing and find in it a hint, a symbol, that points to serving God. In fact, the symbolic meaning could well be the main reason for their existence. Using symbols to ask for material things points to this concept. To the extent we want the material things to help us to better serve God, we are permitted to ask for our material needs through the symbolism of the foods,. After all, the very existence of these foods is intertwined with what they symbolize.

On Rosh HaShanah God gives the Creation new life for another year. How can we partake of the blessing that God bestows upon the Creation? The key lies in our intention when we accept the life (and all the things) that God gives us. We receive according to our intention to use what we are given to serve Him. May we merit intending to use everything God gives us to better serve Him!

[*] For example, we eat leek because in Hebrew the word for leek is karti which has the same root as the word for cutting down. We say that this should be a sign that God will cut down our enemies. The Amora Abayei is the source of this custom. It is based on the principle that symbols have significance (simana milsa hi).

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