The Meaning Behind the Food
סימנא מילתא היא
A Sign is a Legitimate Action
The Gemara in Horayot (12a) teaches, "now that we know סימנא מילתא היא (a sign is a legitimate action) one should take קרא (gourd), רוביא (black eyed peas), כרתי (leek), סילקא (beets) and תמרי (dates)".
Although it is our custom to say a prayer before consuming the above foods, no such prayer is mentioned in the Gemara. What significance is there to enact signs without mentioning a prayer first?
The word מילתא is literally translated as "word". It is possible that the Sages are teaching that when one enacts a sign, that in itself is like a prayer.
Therefore, just by consuming these specific foods, it is as if he is making requests to which these foods allude!
The first food the Gemara teaches that we should take is קרא- gourd. In the Gemara, a קרא is a Passuk. It is possible that by merely eating קרא, we are beseeching Hashem to help us to excel in The Written Torah, תורה שבכתב, laden with Pesukim!
The next food we take is the רוביא, black eyed peas. The word רוביא sounds like רב, an allusion to the Rabbis.
It is possible that by eating the רוביא we are requesting Divine assistance in the Oral Torah תורה שבעל פה, which is transmitted by רבנן, the Rabbis!
We then take כרתי, leek. The word כרתי sounds like כרת, to destroy. The Gemara in Kiddushin (30b) teaches that the only antidote to a person's Yesser Hara is the Torah. It is possible that now that we've requested aid in learning and succeeding in Torah learning, we ask Hashem to destroy, כרת, the Yesser Hara. It is for this reason we eat the כרתי!
The next "sign" prescribed by the Rabbis is סילקא-beets. The word סילקא means to remove. Now that we have defeated the Yesser, we ask that Hashem remove the inclination permanently.
Finally we take a תמר. The Passuk in Tehillim compares abdate to a צדיק. Now that we have invoked Hashem to help us grow in Torah and rid us of the Yesser Hara, we request that we can attain the level of a צדיק!
Rabbi Eliezer Zeytouneh is the Rav of Congregation Bnei Shelomo located at 1305 Gravesend Neck Rd. He is also the Principal of Yeshivat Or Hatorah and the Dean of Peninim Sephardic Seminary. His Shiurim are attended by young adults of all backgrounds and can be heard on LearnTorah.com and Kol Halashon.