Guest Posting From Chabakuk Elisha - Nuts On Rosh Hashana
We have a minhag not to eat nuts on Rosh Hashana. It's an old minhag, and the common reason given is that egoz (nut) is the same gematria as chait (sin); on Rosh Hashana we look for positive things as simanim, and sin, of course, isn't one of them. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 129:9 states, "It is customary not to eat nuts and almonds, because the numerical value of Nut (אגוז) is 17, the same as Sin (חט). Also, nuts increase phlegm and mucus which interferes with prayer."
I keep this minhag, but ever since I was a child, this one has made me scratch my head:
Egoz = 17, Chait = 17 (without the alef), and Tov = 17. I'm sure there are other words that total 17 as well, for example, Haggadah and Zevach also share the gematria 17.
Now, we know that midda tova meruba mimiddas puroniyus (good outweighs bad). Therefore shouldn't the good connotations for 17 outweigh the bad? After all, Tov/Good should be a great thing! Moreover, if we spell chait the way that it is normally spelled, with an alef, it totals the number 18 (Chai), the very number that we almost always try to use in gematrios; we don't avoid donating Chai dollars to tzedaka because 18 can also = chait, to the contrary, 18 is specifically the number of choice!
And there's also the famous story: When the Baal HaTanya was in Mezritch for Rosh Hashana with his Rebbe, the Maggid wished him "a GUT yom tov" (instead of using his regional pronunciation of GIT). The Baal HaTanya was surprised, but the Maggid continued: "Don't think I'm making fun of you (as the Alter Rebbe, being from Lithuania, would have said GUT), it's just that I want to emphasize the spelling of "gut" with a vov, which is gematria "chai (life)" and not "git" which could be spelled with a yud and the gematria would be off (22)." So by using the word "gut" (18) on Rosh Hashana in his brocha – which could also be the gematria of chait – the Maggid was giving the Alter Rebbe a brocha for life on Rosh Hashana. So, what's really the problem?
Yes, I know, there is another reason there: "nuts increase phlegm and mucus which interferes with prayer ." But even if that's true, it seems odd to me to ban nuts for this reason. I don't know, but I haven't noticed a difference, and there are probably other foods that we could avoid for similar reasons, so this answer never really seemed compelling to me. Actually, the reason I do it is simply because it's a minhag, and a Minhag Yisroel is special. We all know the klal that Minhag Yisroel Torah Hi – and therefore, if we have a minhag not to eat them, then for those of us that have the minhag - that is "Torah." As for the true reason for the minhag…I don't know if it really has anything to do with the gematria, rather, I suspect that the gematria is just a way to remember it - but the real reason? I suspect that the reason for it is something else entirely.