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!