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Thought for the Day: Simanim on Rosh HaShanah

Besides all the other reasons to distance ourselves from the Reform Jewish Religion, the nail in the coffin comes at Rosh HaShanah.  They have no idea what they are missing.  Sure, they have a shofar service, but on the first night of Rosh HaShanah (nebbich, their only night) they will have apples and honey.  That's it.  Apples and honey.  We, on the other hand, are going to have (besides the apples and honey), dates, pomegranates, squash, leeks, star fruit, persimmon, beets, carrots... a whole orchestra of flavors and colors.  Thankfully, most of them are goyim, so the tragedy is somewhat mitigated.  Here's some cool stuff about our cool tradition of simanin on Rosh HaShanah evenings.

First of all, there is a whole siman in  Shulchan Aruch (OC 583) dedicated to this august (well, september, this year) minhag.  The Mishna Brura notes that the custom is to eat any foods whose name in the language of that country sounds like bracha and/or bounty.  We usually have raisins on celery and toast to a "raise in salary".  Before you snicker; (a) the reason we have carrots is because the yiddish word for carrots is "mehren", which also means "increase"; (b) we snicker also.

On a slightly more serious note, there is the issue of the appropriate brachos.  You might think it would be be best to eat the simanim after kiddush, but before the bread.  After all, then there is not question that you have to make a borei pri ha'eitz and a borei pri ha'adama.  On the other hand, though, one would then come to a question of whether to make a bracha acharona before the motzi.  The simian are obviously not part of the meal nor tafel to the bread.  On balance, therefore, it's better to make motzi first and then the simanim.

Next problem: apples are not shiva minim, while dates and pomegranates are.  R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach recommends making the bracha of borei pri ha'eitz on dates (or pomegranates) rather than apples.  If you don't want to change your minhag, however, then the dates and pomegranates (and raisins) should be left off the table but kept in mind while making the borei pri ha'eitz.

Borei pri ha'adama is a different issue; namely, most of the foods that take that bracha are normally eaten with the meal and so one comes to a question of bracha sh'ein tricha, chas v'shalom.  On the other hand, most of these foods tonight are being eaten with the specific kavana to be simanim.  R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach recommends making the bracha on gourd or pumpkin, since those are never eaten as a normal par of the meal, and having the other (borei pri ha'adama) simanim in mind.

The Mishna Brura makes a (to me) cryptic reference that a person should have in mind to be aroused to t'shuva when saying the y'hi ratzons.  What's the connection between eating yummy foods while cracking jokes and t'shuva?  The Dirshu edition brings a stunning explanation from Sanz.  When a person is motivated to to t'shuva out of love (instead of fear), even his flagrant and intentional sins become merits for him.  When we make the y'hi ratzon that our merits should increase like the seeds (actually fruit, but that's another story) of the pomegranate, we should take a moment to reflect on how many merits we can rack up just by turning our sins to merits.  If that doesn't motivate you, I don't know what will.

By the way, there lots more details, such as when to make the bracha and when to make the y'hi ratzon.  I suggest you learn about them.  Just saying.

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