There is a long standing Minhag not to eat nuts on Rosh HaShana due to the fact that the Hebrew word for nuts, Egoz, shares the same numerical value as the Hebrew word for Sin, Chet. The symbolic parallel of having the Gematria of 17 is considered inauspicious, and we studiously avoid even a hint of impropriety on Yom HaDin.
There is a famous story with the Kotzker Rebbe zatzal. One of his poor Chassidim was witnessed munching on a cheap snack on the afternoon of Rosh HaShana, nuts. A second Chossid could not tolerate this deviation from the custom, and roundly berated him in public. The Rebbe observed the altercation, and in his typically pithy manner observed to the overly zealous individual, “Chet is also the same Gematria as Chet.” There is little gain in avoiding the symbolic parallels to sin, if one does not abstain from the essence of sin itself. Embarrassing someone in public is certainly a much greater offence than eating nuts.
In this vein, it is customary to eat various foods on the night of Rosh HaShana to symbolize our hopes for the new year. There are many different Minhagim in this regard, but the underlying concept is based on the Gemara in Rosh HaShana. It is common to dip the Challa and an apple in honey to represent a sweet year, to eat a fish head symbolizing our wish to be a “head”, a pomegranate due to its seeds that are as plentiful as the number of opportunities for doing Mitzvos and many others. The Shulchan Aruch even allows one to create his own Simanim based on the names of foods in the vernacular, and many Minhagim are based on the Yiddish names of various items. Less commonly, Rav Heinemann Shlita from Baltimore is reported to eat a piece of raisin and a stick of celery to inspire a raise in salary. Of course one should not get carried away and lead to frivolity on this most serious of occasions.
However, based on our opening story, these Minhagim are all valid and have their purpose, but if we truly want a bountiful year we cannot rely solely on symbolism. If we wish a sweet and pleasant year, we must make an extra effort to be calm and pleasant in our dealing with our family and acquaintances. When we do this, we can expect that they will reciprocate, and we will truly have a sweet year. To facilitate being a “head,” we must work on developing our leadership qualities. If we act like a “tail,” eating all the fish heads in the world is unlikely to be of benefit. If we want to fulfill myriads of Mitzvos, we must be willing to invest the time and effort to make this a priority in our lives. And, if we desire a promotion, we must strive to be good workers.
A Kesiva v’Chasima Tova to all.