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Sweet Stings

Sweet Stings

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Question:

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?

Answer:

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 Chabad.org.
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Sarah September 11, 2014

To Season,
Sephardic Jews eat cooked apples with sugar in Rosh Hashana. Reply

Season Keizer 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? Reply

Shabnam Roshan Ara India August 22, 2013

Be sweet as apple and look sweet as honey. Eat what ever you like but don't eat bitter.

Happy Rosh Hashanah! Reply

Abraham New York, NY September 26, 2011

There is not even one commentator on the Torah who states that the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was an apple. Reply

Ivor London, England September 20, 2011

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 . Reply

Ben SLO, CA 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. Reply

Leslie Solon, Ohio September 9, 2011

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. Reply

Debby Bruck Cary , NC September 8, 2011

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. Reply

Marjorie September 3, 2010

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. Reply

Hank Morris West Palm Beach, Fl, USA September 26, 2008

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. Reply

D. Ca September 24, 2008

Nice. Will print it out.

Thank you Reply

Abigail September 21, 2008

You can't get outside the "experiment" -- everything in this world has meaning and a message for us. Even those spontaneous or adopted customs were adopted for some inner reason -- some say it is part of the Divine plan that Jews adopt and use characteristics of the various nations for Torah purposes as part of the gathering of the sparks. It is not an accident or meaningless at all. Reply

Ricardo Rasilla Calvo A Coruña, Spain September 30, 2006

I am very interested i judaism. My grqandmothers surname was Orella a sefardic surname.
Beautiful article. Reply

Kevin January 3, 2006

C'mon, admit it. You eat apples dipped in honey for no reason whatsoever. I don't buy any of this post. I'm from the southern US, and we eat blackeyed peas on New Years... also for no reason. Some kook just started the tradition, and it caught on, just like apples 'n honey.

Or, maybe I could make up a reason too! The pea is a symbol of the beginning of life. As the pea sprouts, it grows into a glorious plant, sharing it's beauty with the world. We in the south see the new year as a new (or rebirth of a) chance to spread beauty to the world.

Of course the pea has a black eye, signifying that some people don't appreciate beauty, and will punch you in the face if you try to display it. But like the mighty pea plant, we continue to spread our message of beauty.

Hmm, actually, that's pretty good! I'm going to go make some more black-eyed peas just in case :) Reply

mind the sweetness October 4, 2005

This is the best ever heard story of bitter/sweetness in this life of mine. No wonder, as I always imagine, Jews are the brand-name of G-d's creation. Now, you have proved that to be even truer... Reply

Harry Abrams Victoria, BC via chabadvi.org October 2, 2005

I think that there are other significances that the article didn't discuss..

Apples are also a round food, which has special significance as symbolizing the "cycle of life." Rosh Hashanah signifies the beginning of a new cycle, both in Torah and in sustenance.

Also one of the Shana Tova blessings is a blessing involving the "tree of life."

Finally, apples have another symbolism in terms of knowledge and education.

Reply

Eric S. Kingston CA October 1, 2005

In Rabbi David Cooper's book, G-d is a Verb, there is a quote, "when G-d loves a soul He tests it in order to bring it closer to Him."

If we could see that every pain is a test
if we could find faith in doubt and still run when we want to rest
then maybe we could fix all the things we percieve
and we would know
nothing was ever broken when see as G-d does see Reply

Mrs. Herbert Black Atlanta, GA. USA September 29, 2005

What a beautiful commentary on why do we eat specifically apples and honey on Rosh Hashonah.
I never quite knew myself and yet I and my adult children, have suffered in the loss of father, grandfather, and of course my beloved husband of 42 years. He was in education and is now in the realm of the Tzadikim buried in Har HaMenuchot in Givat Shaul outside of Jerusalem. (Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan 5762) at the age of 66.
Fortunately we "did all of the things we wanted to do", traveled many times to Israel to visit the children and grandchildren, saw lots of wonderful simchas and met many wonderful young people who became observant just by eating at our Yom Tov and Shabbos table.
Shana Tova Tikatevu
Sincerely, Reply