QUESTION: Why for Rosh Hashanah is it customary to make round challot, and shape them like a spiraling ladder?
ANSWER: Rosh Hashanah
is the day of Hashem's coronation, when he is crowned as King over us and the entire world. Thus, it is appropriate to make round challot
, which resemble a crown.
In our prayers we declare that on this day it is decided, "Mi yishafeil u'mi yarum" - "Who shall be humbled and who shall be exalted." Therefore, it is customary to shape the challot as a ladder, alluding to the idea of going down and up.
Some Chassidim and men of deeds have a custom to purchase a new knife, Erev Rosh Hashanah (Nitei Gavriel 11:10)
QUESTION: What is the reason for the custom of purchasing a new sharp knife before Rosh Hashanah?
The final letters of the words, "Potei'ach et yadecha"
- "You open up your hand" - spell the word "chatach"
- "cut" - which is the name of the Angel in charge of parnasah
- livelihood. Also, the word "u'masbe'a"
- "and satisfy [the desire of every living being]" - which follows afterwards in the pasuk
(Psalms 145:16) has the numerical value of four hundred and twenty-eight which is also the numerical value of "chatach."
Thus, the acquiring of a new sharp knife is considered a "segulah"
- something spiritually propitious - for parnasah
, which we request on Rosh Hashanah
for the entire coming year.
"A holy convocation commemorating the Exodus from Egypt." (Kiddush)
QUESTION: What is the connection between Rosh Hashanah and the redemption from Egypt?
Though the actual departure from Egypt took place on the 15th of Nissan
, the Gemara
11a) says that six months earlier, on Rosh Hashanah
, servitude was removed from our forefathers in Egypt.
"It is customary to eat the head of a ram in remembrance of the ram [offered in lieu] of Yitzchak... or an other head, to allude that we be a head and not a tail. (Shulchan Aruch Harav 583:5)
QUESTION: How does this accord with the statement of the Mishnah "And rather be a tail to lions than a head to foxes." (4:15)?
16b) says that tzaddikim
are immediately inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life. The verdict for the beinonim
- average people - however is unclear, and according to their behavior during the ten days of repentance, a decision is made by Yom Kippur
. Thus, the eating of the head alludes that we hope to be on the "head" of the list together with the tzaddikim
and be inscribed immediately in the Book of Life and not be on the "tail" end of the list and have to wait days for a decision about our future.
QUESTION: If the intent of the prayer is "to be a head" it should have said, "sheniheyeh rosh." Why "lerosh"?
The word "lerosh"
is an acronym for "la'asot retzon Avinu shebashamayim."
We pray to merit that throughout the year we should merit to fulfill the will of our Father in Heaven.
Another explanation is: In reality it seems impractical for everyone to be a leader. A community needs leaders and followers. Our prayer, however, is that we should merit "sheniheyeh" - to belong and be attached - "lerosh" - to a rosh, to be a chassid of a rebbe, and a follower of an authentic leader of K'lal Yisrael.
"Some eat a sweet apple dipped in honey" (Orach Chaim 583:1)
QUESTION: What is the significance of eating a sweet apple dipped in honey, on the first night or Rosh Hashanah?
When any apple is cut in half horizontally one sees five grooves with pits, encircled by ten dots. Using the alef-beit
as numerals, the hei
is five and the yud
ten. Thus, the five grooves and the ten dots are an allusion to the "yud-hei"
- the first half of the Holy four-lettered Name.
The reason for the emphasis on the "yud" and "hei" of His Holy four-letter Name is that "Hayom harat olam" - "Today is the birthday of the world" - and with these two letters the worlds were created. The Gemara (Menachot 29b) explains that the pasuk, "Be'yah Hashem tzur olamim" - "For in G-d, Ado-noy, is the strength of the worlds (Isaiah 26:4), should be expounded as if it means, "With 'yah' (the letters yud and hei) Hashem formed worlds." With the letter "yud" - "Olam Haba" - "the World to Come" - was created, and with the letter "hei" - "Olam hazeh" - "this world" - was created (see Bereishit 2:4, Rashi).
Thus, eating an apple is particularly appropriate on Rosh Hashanah, the birthday of the world and the day of Hashem's coronation as King of the world.
According to Kabbalists Hashem's name "Yud - Hei" has a special connection with the month of Tishrei. In fact, the mazal - astrological sign - of Tishrei is moznayim - scales - and the numerical value of the Hebrew words "mazal moznayim" is two hundred and twenty-five, the same as "yud-hei" times "yud-hei" (15 x 15 = 225).
It is interesting to note, that in the zemirot of Shabbat (Atkinu Seudata and Azameir Bishevachim) the mention of "Chakal Tapuchin Kadishin" - "the Field of Sacred Apples" - refers to the Kingdom of Hashem.
"Dipped in honey"
QUESTION: What is the significance of dipping the challah and the apple into honey?
and the apple are dipped in honey because the Hebrew word for honey is "devash"
and its numerical value is three hundred and six, which is also the numerical value of "Av harachaman"
- "merciful Father."
"Some eat pomegranates and say, 'May we accumulate merits like a pomegranate.' " (Orach Chaim 583:1, Rama)
QUESTION: What message do we send to Hashem by eating a pomegranate?
In reference to Rabbi Meir's learning Torah from Elisha ben Avuyah, even after he became a heretic known as "Acheir"
- "the other" - the Gemara
15b) says, "Rabbi Meir found in Acheir's
teachings the equivalent of a pomegranate. He ate the inside and threw away the peel." He discarded Acheir's
openly sinful behavior like a peel, and drew out the valuable Torah teachings that still remained within him.
Regardless of the "outer appearance" of a Jew, within him is a spark of Judaism which is glowing. It may be covered by various kelipot - peels - of alien influences that are not Torah oriented, but this spark will not allow the individual to be detached from Hashem (see Tanya ch. 19).
By eating a pomegranate we are asking Hashem, "In judging us, do not be impressed by our 'peel' - outer appearance - but take into consideration only the good that is within us, and our desire to be attached to You, even if it requires mesirat nefesh - self-sacrifice."
"Some are careful not to eat walnuts [on Rosh Hashanah] since the numerical value of the word "egoz" - "walnut" - is the same as the word "cheit" - "sin." (Orach Chaim 583:2, Rama)
QUESTION: The numerical value of "egoz" is only seventeen, so what does it have to do with "cheit" which adds up to eighteen? Moreover, "egoz" has the same numerical value as "tov" - "good" - so why not eat walnuts?
A walnut is divided into two halves which are attached together, and in each half there are two pieces of nut separated by a partition. Thus, the four quarters of the nut are all under one cover and in one casing, yet separated from each other.
The message of not eating walnuts on Rosh Hashanah is that all Jews should be united and interdependent. To portion oneself off and not mingle with others is the equivalent of "cheit" - a "sin."
Alternatively, for reaching the numerical value of "cheit" - "sin" - the "alef" is not counted since it is a silent letter which is not pronounced.
The "alef" is silent to allude that the person sinned because at that particular time he did not hear or pay attention to the "alef" - Hashem - Who is "Alufo shel olam" - "the One and Only Master of the world."
QUESTION: What is the reason for the Tashlich service on Rosh Hashanah?
On the first day of Rosh Hashanah
(or on the second if the first falls on Shabbat
) after the Minchah
Prayer before sunset, it is proper to go outside of the city to a well or spring that contains fish - for water symbolizes kindness, and fish an ever-open eye - and recite the thirteen Divine Attributes of Mercy, mentioned in the last three verses of the Prophet Micah, "Mi Ei-l kamocha"
- "Who is Al-mighty like You" (Micah
7:18, 20), which correspond to the thirteen Divine Attributes (see Shemot
The prophet also stated, "Vetashlich bimetzulot yam kol chatotam" - "You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea" (Micah 7:19).Based on this the service received the name Tashlich.
Fish have a tendency to multiply abundantly and since they are under the cover of water, the naked eye cannot see them, and thus they are not affected by an evil eye. With our going to Tashlich we are alluding that we beseech Hashem that we be blessed with the fish qualities - multiply and not be affected by an evil eye.
Alternatively, the Gemara (Horiyot 12a) says that kings were anointed only by a spring of water to allude that their reign should flow continuously. Rosh Hashanah is the day of coronation of the King of Kings - Hashem. By going to the water we are alluding that we want His Kingdom over us to be everlasting, and we will endeavor to keep ourselves free of transgression so that our relationship will be constant and perpetual.
Alternatively, the Akeidah took place on Rosh Hashanah (Zohar, Vayikra 18a). Satan tried to stop it from happening, and in one of his attempts, he disguised himself as a body of water. Avraham did not let this thwart him and walked right into the water. As it reached his mouth and he was about to drown, he prayed to Hashem. Seeing his sincerity Hashem instructed Satan to move aside, and Avraham continued on dry land unto Mount Moriah (Midrash Tanchumah, Bereishit).
To commemorate this aspect of the Akeidah we go to a body of water on Rosh Hashanah.
Perhaps it can be said that with this we are proclaiming our commitment to following in the footsteps of our patriarch and resolving not to permit any obstacles to hinder us from serving Hashem.
In Hebrew fish are called "dagim" and the numerical value of the word is fifty-seven, which is also the numerical value of the word "zan" - "nourishment." Hence, at Tashlich we are beseeching Hashem to nourish us throughout the year materially and spiritually.