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Sweet Stings

Sweet Stings



On Rosh Hashanah we eat apples and honey for a sweet new year. My question is, why specifically apples and honey? There are many sweet foods. Is there anything significant about them?


There is a difference between the sweetness of an apple and the sweetness of honey. An apple is a sweet fruit which grows on a tree. There is nothing surprising about that--many fruits are sweet. But honey comes from a bee--an insect that is not only inedible, it actually stings. Nevertheless the honey that it produces is sweet. In fact, honey is sweeter than an apple!

Similarly, there are two types of sweetness in our lives: we have times of family celebration, successes in our careers, personal triumphs and harmonious relationships. These are sweet times like the apple is sweet. But then there is a different type of sweetness; a sweetness that comes from times of challenge. When things don't go the way that we would like them to, when tragedy strikes, when our job is in jeopardy, when we fail to reach the goals we expected of ourselves, when our relationships are being strained and tested, when we feel alone.

At the time when we are facing these challenges, they seem bitter and insurmountable, like the sting of a bee. But if we are strong and withstand the difficult times, and overcome the obstacles to our own happiness, we reveal layers of our personality that we would never have tapped into if we weren't challenged. Something deeper is brought out when we are tested. Tension in a relationship is painful, but there's nothing better than reconciling after that tension. Losing a job is degrading, but how often it is that we find bigger and better things to move on to. Loneliness can eat us up, but it can open us to higher levels of self-knowledge too. We have all experienced events in our lives that at the time were painful, but in retrospect we say, "Thank G‑d for the tough times--imagine where I would be without them!"

So we eat apples and honey on the first day of the new year. We bless each other and ourselves that in the year to come the apples should bring sweetness, and what the bee stings bring should be even sweeter!

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to
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Discussion (18)
September 11, 2014
To Season,
Sephardic Jews eat cooked apples with sugar in Rosh Hashana.
September 2, 2013
A beautiful spiritual interpretation. But I wonder, what do Jews eat in the Holy Land? And Sephardic Jews in general? Does anyone know? Because, i wonder if the eating of apples is an Ashkenazi tradition - apples have been more of a northern (cold) climate fruit. I don't think apples were native to the middle east. What is the original word translated "fruit" in that Genesis passage, does anyone know?
August 22, 2013
Sweet Sting.
Be sweet as apple and look sweet as honey. Eat what ever you like but don't eat bitter.

Happy Rosh Hashanah!
Shabnam Roshan Ara
September 26, 2011
Re: Apples and Peas
There is not even one commentator on the Torah who states that the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was an apple.
New York, NY
September 20, 2011
apples and honey
I was taught that the apple should be sharp and not too sweet so that there was a contrast in flavour , thus preparing you for disappointments as well as joy in the coming year .
London, England
September 9, 2011
When thinking too deep we often miss the obvious. According to the Torah (Devarim 32:10), we are the apple of His (HaShem's) eyes. ponder on that a bit.
The Honey is His sweetness poured upon us.
Follow the Torah and this shall be life to you.
September 9, 2011
Apples and Peas
I am not sure you actually answered why apples vs. any other sweet fruit. I assumed it was because at this time of year, it is the apple that has now rippened on the tree.Of course, peaches have also rippened on the trees although a bit earlier, they are still there and they too are round and sweet However, I also believed the apple was a connection to the story of Adam and Eve as well; The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. After reading, these comments though, I think the Black-eyed pea story is beautiful also. Everyone has there traditions. Eat what you like, share the holiday with friends and family, reflect on the meaning of the holiday itself. Me, I'll eat apples and honey cuz that's what we do, but I think I'll add some peas to my table as well this year.
Solon, Ohio
September 8, 2011
Apples and Bees In A Symbiotic Relationship
Our souls strive to be in a relationship with HaShem. And HaShem wants us to find, praise and care for the beauty in the world that He has created. We have the ability to make HIs naturally sweet harvested fruit even sweeter when we dip the bees honey in a slice of apple at the New Year. HaShem gave us this gift of adding to His sweetness and saying a blessing for all that is good.

We must be dedicated to healing this world & make it more inhabitable for all, including the tiny buzzing bees who pollinate one-third of our planetary diet. Without bees taking pollen from one apple tree to another apple tree we wouldn't get any apples.
Debby Bruck
Cary , NC
September 3, 2010
The two sides of bees
Actually, there's more about bees than their sting, and now that you've gotten me thinking about the reasons for honey on Rosh Hashanah, to me, the positive side of bees seems even more a propos. They are what allows plants to, well, you might say "mate" -- helping the pollen travel from one plant to the other. If not for bees, we might not have vegetables or fruit. And without those foods, less sustenance for those other items we eat, so we might not have them, either. So to me, bees represent both pain and a large key to our ability to live. Even I, who am dangerously allergic to their sting, feel a great appreciation for bees and for the fascinating, even beautiful, dichotomy they respresent. On Rosh Hashanah, such an outlook can truly help us see how things that seem all bad (such as our luck sometimes) can turn out to have a better side -- that G-d sometimes works in ways we cannot immediately recognize.
September 26, 2008
Apple dippen in Honey
I remember being told that the use of an apple is because of what King Solomon wrote in the Songs of Songs that "Beneath the apple tree arouses your love.": It means from G-d to you and from you to G-d.
Hank Morris
West Palm Beach, Fl, USA