First night of yom tov, as we both begin to eat the delicious soup my mother served, that had leek in it, my father turns to me and asks, “Why do we eat leek on Rosh HaShana?” Because I didn’t remember the reason ArtScroll gives, I went in a different direction. “It’s a segula for prostate health. You should have a year of good leaks.” My father frowned at me; I said, “What? It’s as good a connection as the ‘real’ reason.” To which he could do nothing but agree.
You see, some of things we do/eat on Rosh HaShana have the most tenous of connections: “The word for … ‘Karsi,’ leeks or cabbage, sounds like the word ‘kares,’ ‘to cut off/destroy.’ We therefore say a Yehi Ratzon that asks ‘may… our enemies be destroyed.‘” (Source) Are we really asking God to provide us with a blessing because we ate a food whose name in some language sounds like a word that you could use to maybe kind of connect to the bracha? Is God a third-grade girl? I mean, read the rest of them listed on that link or here, for instance. Or, carrots, for instance. I’ve heard explanation from the Hebrew (“Gezer = gzar din”) to the Yiddish (“mehrin = yirbu z’chuyot”) to the Shape (they look like coins. Money!).
Come on. Is this really what our religion is about? Even a little bit? This sounds more like voodoo than Judaism. “Hey, you mean I can stick a pin in this doll eat the head of this fish, and hurt someone become the ‘head’ of something? Awesome.”
But people do these things, and theyare strict about them. How many times have you heard that it’s bad to nap on Rosh HaShana? Why? Because it’s a sign for a sleepy year. The thing about signs is you can interpret them however you want. It won’t make me have a sleepy year, it’ll make me have a year of good naps! I want good naps on shabbos. (If my daughter wakes me up from said R”H nap, then I’m trouble.)
I mean, if this stuff is really true, then I’m in for a bad year. That’s right, folks. Cuz damn if I didn’t have one mother of a cold/ear infection this Rosh HaShana. Sucks for me. I won’t be able to hear a damn thing until next Rosh HaShana. And the post-nasal drip, oy! I’ll be coughing for a year!
Good thing I’m not buying into that.
Seriously, how do we reconcile a religion that teaches us that observing mitzvos and doing tshuva and davening to Hashem is the way to salvation with this talismanic crap? We stand in shul and proclaim, at the emotional height of the davening, “U’Tshuva, U’Tefila, U’Tzedaka ma’averin et ro’a ha’g’zeira” (and repentance, prayer and charity will overturn the harshness of the decree), and then go home, and instead of tshuva, tefila or tzedaka, we dip an apple into honey and excoriate those that eat horseradish on their gefilte fish because we should have a sweet year. As if God is watching, thinking “hmm, Shlomo was good last year. He repented with real regret, he gave charity with compassion and I really sensed sincerity in his prayer. I think I will inscribe him for a good year this year. Wait! What’s this? Sharp horseradish? Alas, poor Shlomo. It is to be a spicy year for you, full of bitter hardship.” Or “Noyam deserves punishment. He writes blog posts that mock religion and its aherents and he doesn’t reserve the proper respect for such important things. Ah, but he has eaten honey. I have no choice but to inscribe him for the sweet year I had planned for poor Shlomo.” Is this really what we expect?
Why even bother with the mitzvot? If God can be so easily swayed with symbolism and words that kinda sound alike, why not just spend the year eating honey and foods that have good sounding names. Want to make money? Eat Rich’s Whip. Want a low golf score? Eat a pear, it sounds like par. Want a new job? Eat the fruit for that “plum” placement! Dislike Englishmen? Eat a London Broil and see what happens to the weather over there!
And remember, no nuts!! Because the hebrew word for one kind of nut (walnut), if spelled in a certain way, with an extra letter not normally used, is one away in gematria from the Hebrew word for sin (which, by the way is equal in gematria to the hebrew word for life…let that sink in for a second). If there was ever a clear, divine edict to refrain from something, it’s nuts on Rosh HaShana!