Customs Related to the Days of Rosh Hashanah-The Behavior of Maran zt”l

It is customary to eat red meat and sweet foods on the days of Rosh Hashanah, as the verse in Nechemia states, “Go eat fatty foods and drink sweet beverages and sent gifts of food to those who do not have, for the day is sanctified to our Lord.”

One may not fast at all on Rosh Hashanah. Nevertheless, one should not eat one’s entire fill so as not to cause one to act frivolously as one must keep the fear of Heaven before him. Some customarily dip the bread eaten at the time the “Hamotzi” blessing is recited into honey or sugar. The Kaf Ha’Chaim writes that one should nonetheless dip the bread in salt as well as one would throughout the rest of the year. Some customarily abstain from eating walnuts on Rosh Hashanah as the Hebrew word for walnut, “Egoz,” has the same numerical value as the Hebrew word for sin, “Chet” (without the Aleph). According to the Kabbalah, one should abstain from eating red grapes on Rosh Hashanah; nevertheless, this only applies to red grapes and not to green grapes. On the contrary, it is actually auspicious to eat green grapes on Rosh Hashanah. Some customarily abstain from eating any bitter, sour, or spicy foods on Rosh Hashanah. Similarly, it is written in a responsa of the Geonim that one should not eat spicy foods on Rosh Hashanah.

It is customary not to sleep on Rosh Hashanah day (such as an afternoon nap and the like), for it is improper to sleep when the books of life and death are open before Hashem. Indeed, the Talmud Yerushalmi states that one who sleeps on Rosh Hashanah causes his fortune to “sleep.” Thus, one should try to arise at dawn on the morning of Rosh Hashanah or at the very least at sunrise and then proceed to carry out the appropriate preparations for prayer services. If one is tired and feels the need to sleep, one may sleep after halachic midday. Similarly, Rabbeinu Chaim Vital writes that his teacher, the holy Ari z”l, would sleep on Rosh Hashanah after halachic midday.

Besides for the “Simanim” (order of fruits and other foods eaten as an auspicious sign for the coming year) which are performed on the days of Rosh Hashanah which we shall, G-d-willing, discuss in a following Halacha, one must put forth an effort to be joyous during the Rosh Hashanah meals and not, G-d-forbid, be sad. One must be sure to treat his family joyfully and pleasantly and not waste his time doing unimportant, useless things. Indeed, the Poskim write that if one sits around idly and engages in idle chat and the like, it is considered as if one is sleeping; on the contrary, it is better for one to actually go to sleep than to sit around chatting idly.

Some customarily read the entire book of Tehillim (Psalms) twice on Rosh Hashanah, for Tehillim consists of one-hundred-fifty chapters and twice this amount is equal to the numerical value of the Hebrew word “Kapper” (three-hundred) meaning “atone.” The Ben Ish Hai writes that some customarily learn the Mishnayot of Tractate Rosh Hashanah with the commentary of Rabbeinu Ovadia of Bartenura after the festive meal on the nights of Rosh Hashanah and this is indeed a fine custom.

Furthermore, Rabbeinu Yosef Haim writes in his Ben Ish Hai that one should take care not to become angry on Rosh Hashanah, for besides for the prohibition to become angry throughout the year, it is also ominous for one to become angry during these days. One should be careful not even to become angry in one’s heart. Thus, one must mentally prepare himself in advance to be completely happy on Rosh Hashanah, such that even if people anger him, one will be able to control his temper and not become angry.

Indeed, there was no other day throughout the year when Maranzt”l was as happy as on the day of Rosh Hashanah when Maran was especially joyful and his happiness illuminated his entire countenance. Maran would smile and greet everyone with an abundance of patience and with no sign of irritability whatsoever on this day. On Rosh Hashanah, Maran would behave with an added sense of love and affection to all those who came to receive his blessing, for it is improper to be irritable on this day and it is an especially good omen to act joyfully and contently on this day, more than any of the other Simanim we perform. Nevertheless, this was done along with a sense of fear of the Day of Judgment, as the verse states, “And be joyful in trepidation.” May his merit serve to protect us all, Amen.