Nuts for Repentence?
By Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder
Be'chol Lashon Rabbi-in-Residence
In a season filled with symbolic meanings, the question of whether to eat nuts during these days of repentence has advocates for the yeah and the ney. There are those who definitely avoid nuts of all shapes and sizes during these ten days. For some there is a deep symbolic meaning, as I mentioned in my Rosh Hashana post, as the Hebrew word egoz has a numeric value 17 (when you add up the value of each letter) [thanks to Devo for the correction] that is equal to that of the Hebrew word of sin (het) and as sin should be avoided so too should nuts.
I don’t personally find this to be the most persuasive argument against nuts, as I suspect that if I looked long and hard I might be able to find other foods whose value was similarly negatively associated. But there is another school of thought that suggests that nuts should be avoided in this particular season because they can have a negative effect on our ability to sing. (Their husks and meats have a tendency to get caught in or dry up throats and so they are to be avoided in this season when our need to raise our voices to God is so essential.)
Looking into this matter, I came across some wonderful rabbinic teachings about nuts.
Riffing off of the verse in Song of Songs 6:11 “I went down into the garden of nuts” the rabbis writing in Song of Songs Rabbah suggest that the nut is like the people of Israel coming before God on Yom Kippur. The nut in its shell, they explain, may fall into the mud but it can be picked up wiped, washed and returned to a form suitable for eating. Similarly with the people of Israel fall into trouble throughout the year but come Yom Kippur, they are washed clean and restored to a pure condition. In my reading this midrash reminds us that no matter how sullied we may seem on the inside there is an inner core that is pure.
Furthermore, the almond whose nut can be a bit bitter at times, is the first tree to flower in the Israeli spring and as a result is a sign of hope and rebirth. It is a reminder to all of us that even our hidden bitter bits can flourish into the possibilities of tomorrow.
So I’ll take my chances with my singing voice and serve almonds and other nuts tomorrow before the fast.
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