Thursday, March 04, 2010

Pomegranates and Mitzvos

On Rosh Hashana, one of the simanim that we traditionally eat is a pomegranate, with the prayer that "sheyirbu zechoseinu karimon - that our merits be increased like a pomegranate." One common explanation is that since a pomegranate has 613 seeds, we are asking that we also should merit to fulfill all 613 mitzvos. Although this variant can be easily disproved empirically, many other sources (cited by Rabbi Zivotovsky in Jewish Action) do seem to assume that the relevance is that a pomegrante has many seeds, even if not specifically 613. However, I was always troubled by this explanation. We don't ask "sheyirbu zechoyuseinu k'garinei harimon - that our merits should be increased like the seeds of a pomegranate." Our request must be based on something more inherent about the fruit itself, not just the seeds.

I was troubled by this for a long time, until I had the good fortune of going to a yeshiva with pomegranate bushes growing outside the chadar ochel. Every day after lunch I walked past the bushes, and watched the fruits grow and grow. A few times I picked a pomegranate and tasted the seeds to see if it was ripe, but the seeds were always too sour to eat. (Note: as the bushes were hefker, there was no requirement to separate trumos and maasros. In other cases, if you have a fruit tree in your back yard in Israel, you can not just pick a fruit and eat it.)

Those pomegranates never did get edible. But here's the amazing thing I found: as the seeds continued to expand, the skin did not. The skin hardened, and the expanding seeds cracked open the skin, leaving the seeds to break out and propagate, in a way that seeds tend to do.

This gave me a totally new understanding of the Yehi Ratzon. We are not asking that we have many merits; we're asking that our merits should grow and grow, until they expand beyond our own self-imposed limitations. Once that happens, those merits can spread out across the world and propagate themselves on their own.

Thanks to Dixie Yid for prompting me to write this post.


  1. Well it's hard to say the picture and topic are *unrelated*. Even that statistical study you quoted shows that the average number of seeds across all countries' pomegranets is "613..."

    Great pshat though. Thank you for writing and sharing!

  2. Anonymous12:39 PM EST

    you don't separate matanos on achilas arai; workers could always nosh off the trees

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