This Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Barry Blum turns his attention to the sweet and tasty dimensions of life, which he toasts with chocolate.
BY: Rabbi Barry Blum
Throughout these Days of Awe, rabbis will incorporate moving liturgical pieces from the Machzor, teachings, poetry and prayers within the body of their messages. Many sermons will likely touch upon the events that shaped our world this past year. Some rabbis may focus upon the need to find more frequent occasions for congregants to connect to synagogue and Judaism. Others may emphasize the need to find greater meaning in life by performing mitzvot and helping others.
This Rosh Hashanah, I chose a different approach. We are frequently inundated with all the violence that fills our world today. This year, I want to focus on the sweet and tasty dimensions of life.
Our Jewish tradition teaches us to eat carrots that our merits increase and eat some cabbage that our enemies be decimated. We dip apples into honey that our year may be good and sweet. We taste pomegranate seeds symbolic of the good deeds we will perform. We seek to be at the head rather than the tail of the fish.
Missing from this traditional list is a sweet and bitter candy known as chocolate. Chocolate is not associated with the High Holidays, yet candy is often given on occasions to sweeten the teachings of Torah. My grandparents operated a candy store in South West Philly, so the love of chocolate has been transmitted through the generations.
Rabbi Deborah Prinz’s recent book, On the Chocolate Trail, reveals an often-overlooked contribution of the Jews who served as pioneers by bringing the cocoa business to the French. Chocolate was believed to be food of the Gods.
The People of the Book had a truly sweet vision that brought chocolate to the New World, too. The sweet taste of Barton candies, Elite Chocolates in Israel and most recently Max Brenner reminds us of the connections between Jews and chocolate. Jewish life through the centuries may have been more often bitter than sweet, but cocoa represented the Jewish resilience — the perfect ingredient of hope.
During World War II, the Nazis fashioned chocolate bars with explosives that would go off seven seconds after eating. And cruel S.S. members would use chocolate to entice Jews into cattle cars on the way to the death camps.
The sweet taste of a chocolate bar often given to young children for attending junior congregation always sweetened the service. Gelt made of chocolate is often eaten as part of the festivities of Chanukah. The chocolate is often fashioned in the mold of a coin or dreidel.
There are numerous ways to usher in a new year, with promises to change and discover opportunities to dip Torah more often into the fabric of our lives. We may want to seek to raise the bar of life by performing mitzvot while praying that one day the world will be a sweeter place. In the meantime, may we find opportunities to savor some sweet chocolate flavor as we celebrate the New Year.
Wishing Shanah Tovah, a happy and healthy New Year to everyone.
Rabbi Barry Blum is the religious leader of Congregation Beth El-Ner Tamid in Broomall.