“Abaye said ‘Now that you have said that an omen is significant, at the beginning of each year, each person should accustom himself to eat gourds, fenugreek, leeks, beets and dates…’
Based on this Gemara, the custom is to eat these foods, as well as others, on Rosh Hashanah. The idea behind eating these foods is for them to make us reflect on the special message each food provides and realize that these are the very things that we should be praying for on Rosh Hashanah. This should lead to the thought that the reason one is praying for these things is because he is being judged. This in turn should lead to a person’s wanting to return to be closer to G-d. These omens themselves are not enough to save a person, rather he needs to take action and change his ways.
Each of the foods mentioned in the Gemara symbolize something good or their name sounds similar to something good. There is a custom to say a short request before each food, requesting from G-d the good thing that is related to that specific food.
The first food mentioned in the Gemara is gourd. In Hebrew, gourd is called “K’ra”. This word can be understood in two ways in Hebrew- one way is according to the translation to read and the other way as the word for tear. Therefore, two possible requests can be said before the consumption of the gourd. Either a request that our merits be read before G-d, or that any bad decree against us should be torn up. One can choose to recite either of these requests and there is also a common custom to recite both!
Fenugreek is the second food mentioned. Fenugreek is translated as “Rubia” in Hebrew. This word is closely related to the word “Yirbu” meaning increase. The request that therefore accompanies the fenugreek is that our merits should increase.
Leeks are “Karti” in Hebrew, which is close to the Hebrew word “Karet” meaning cut off or destroyed. We therefore request before eating it that our enemies be destroyed.
Beets are “Silka” which is close in spelling to the word “Siluk” meaning removal. We request from G-d that our enemies be removed.
“Tamri” means dates and sounds like the Hebrew word “Sheyitamu” meaning that they should be consumed. We request before eating the dates that our enemies be consumed.
The most common omen eaten on Rosh Hashanah is apple dipped in honey. A simple picture of an apple dipped in honey is enough to conjure up thoughts of Rosh Hashanah. The sweetness of the apples and honey reflect our hope that the coming year will be a sweet one and that is precisely what we request from G-d on eating the apple and honey.