Rosh Hashana message from Rabbi Gourarie
Rosh Hashana Codes
At the Rosh Hashanah meal we eat all kinds of special foods. We dip the apple in honey for a sweet year. We eat the head of fish to be a head and not a tail, and pomegranates so that our blessings and good deeds should be as many as the seeds. These foods are called “Simanim” – symbols or codes. They allude to, and represent the blessings that we all pray for.
However, this practice seems a little strange. Why would we refer to the things that we wish for cryptically in the form of a symbol or a code? Why don’t we just ask for the sweet, prosperous healthy year explicitly?
The answer is that these symbols carry an important message for the new year.
We trust that G-d will bless us all with a year of health, prosperity and an abundance of good things. But these gifts themselves do not automatically bring inner happiness and fulfillment. Happiness is not proportionate to how much we possess or what we own.
G-d’s blessings are like codes that need to be decoded to discover the hidden opportunity that lies within them. They are not an end in themselves. With each blessing that we receive we have a choice. We can use it superficially for pleasure and self centered enjoyment, or we can use it as a means to generate goodness and bring meaning and purpose to our existence. When we choose to use our health, longevity and prosperity to help others, do another mitzvah, further our education or strengthen our relationships then we have uncovered the hidden deep power behind the Divine gifts and blessings.
So this Rosh Hashanah G-d will do his part. He will bless us with all the wonderful things represented by these foods. Let us do our part and decode the message that comes together with each blessing. It is this combination that will bring the true and real sweetness and happiness into the new year.
Every festival has its food. On Chanukah we eat doughnuts, cheesecake on Shavuot and Matzah on Pesach. Rosh Hashanah is associated with honey – apple dipped in honey on the first night and Challah with honey throughout the festival. Honey is sweet, emphasizing our hopes for a good and sweet year. But why specifically honey – why not sugar or some other sweet food?
Honey is unique because of where it comes from. It is the only food taken from a non-kosher animal that we are permitted to eat. Furthermore the bee is an insect that stings and causes pain and bodily damage. Yet at the same time it is able to produce a sweet food that can add a delicious flavor to other things.
This is specifically why we use honey – because it represents the power of Rosh Hashanah. When we begin a fresh new year, the past is not always so sweet. Not everything in the last year might have been completely “Kosher”. Sometimes we may have stung and hurt those close to us. But on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we can turn it all around. We can learn from last year’s experiences and make the future more positive and filled with blessing. Like the bee, we can produce sweet honey.
When we eat the honey on Rosh Hashanah we are making a statement: We are not perfect, but with a little effort we can achieve sweetness. G-d accepts our commitment, and blesses us all with a happy, healthy, prosperous and sweet new year.
The Season of Change
Growth, improvement and changing ourselves to become better people are always possible and necessary. But the High Holydays and the lead up to Rosh Hashanah can be referred to as ‘the season of change’. There is a Divine energy in the air that makes change and growth much easier during this period. In this month our sages compare G-d to a ‘king in the field’ – accessible, approachable and ready to support our journey of self improvement more than any other time.
But change doesn’t happen overnight. It requires introspection, courage, strength and careful planning. The process of change can be divided into two parts – the commitment and the plan of action.
There are three important steps that create a commitment to the journey of change: – belief, reflection and letting go.
a) Belief that it is possible to change ourselves: At the very essence of our soul there is a Divine spark of positive indestructible pure energy that can never be corrupted by our weaknesses or failings. This intrinsic goodness is the foundation upon which we can always rebuild our relationship with G-d and other people. Change is not becoming a different person but rather reconnecting to our true self – revealing the essential goodness that is the core of our identity.
b) Reflection: We cannot create a better future if we are comfortable with the past. Change can only occur with a significant degree of soul searching and stocktaking. Leading up to Rosh Hashanah we should spend time reflecting on the past year. Doing that will help us identify our successes of the past year as well those areas that need improvement. By becoming uncomfortable with our weaknesses we can commit to doing better in the New Year.
c) Letting go: The most difficult part of change is to develop a new mindset. Willingness to improve often fails because we still hang on to old perceptions, interpretations and values. Successful growth must come together with a willingness to let go of old mindsets, clear our minds and absorb new ideas, a fresh outlook and give new purpose and meaning to our value system.