Seldom, if ever, does it occur to us that when we spread honey on our bread, or cereal, and enjoy its sweetness, we are actually enjoying the juice of sweet flowers, The bee-that little creature which can give a very painful sting- is the one which gathers flower juice, or nectar, and carries it to the beehive. The worker bee has a honey bag, which is 'not unlike a bird's crop. In it the bee carries the nectar from the flower to the hive. While the flower juice is in this bag, it thickens and becomes that delicious thing which we call "honey". The bee deposits the honey in honey" combs, ready to eat.
The honeybees gather and store honey for their own use and for their young. They do not know, of course, that in doing so they provide mankind with one of its most nourishing foods. They work hard during the long summer days, flying from flower to flower, gathering nectar, and carrying it to the hive, and going out again. It has been estimated that in order to produce one pound of honey, a bee would have to fly a distance of some 50,000 miles. This is a journey that could take the bee more than twice around the globe of our Earth! Needless to say, no honeybee lives long enough to make such a journey. The longest life- span of a bee is eight or nine months. Thus no single bee can ever produce a pound of honey. But honeybees live in large colonies; consisting of many thousands of bees. Because of their numbers, and industry, large quantities of honey are harvested every year. In the United States, more than 225,000,000 pounds of honey are produced each year. Most of the honey is produced in California (about 40 million pounds), Minnesota (about 25 million pounds), and Florida (about 17 million pounds). The States of Wisconsin, Iowa, New York, Ohio and Michigan are also large producers of honey.
Honey is a quick-energy food. We all know the story of Jonathan, King Saul's son, and David's beloved friend, how he single-handedly brought victory to the embattled Jewish armies in their war against the Philistines. He was very faint and tired, after the hard battle, and he could barely drag his feet through the woods. Then he chanced upon a beehive. He drew some honey from it on the edge of his cane, and ate it, "and his eyes lit up", because his energy was restored. This mouthful of honey nearly cost him his life" For unknown to Jonathan, his father Saul had proclaimed a public fast that day, in prayer and supplication to G-d for a, victory over the Philistines, who greatly outnumbered Saul's army in men and weapons. Every- one was forbidden to take any food or water that day, on penalty of death. Jonathan, was not in the camp when his father had proclaimed the fast. When Saul learned that his son had broken the vow, he was prepared to condemn him to death. The people, however, saved him, because he had not known about the prohibition and they were truly grateful to him, for that miraculous victory. (I Sam. chap. 14.)
More than 80% (81.2% to be exact) of honey is Carbohydrate-sugars and c" starches that are immediately converted into body energy. Honey is second to none in food value. One pound of honey contains 1,475 calories.
In ancient times, before people knew how to make sugar, honey was a great treat to them. When G-d promised the children of Israel that they would be freed from Egyptian bondage and led to their own land, the Promised Land was described as "a land flowing with milk and honey" (Exodus. 3: 17, etc.). While the "honey" here referred to the honey
Of dates, bee-keeping was also a very ancient art, and there was no shortage of bees in the Holy Land. The tasteful manna, that heavenly food which sustained the Israelites during their forty years' wandering to the Promised Land, is described in the Torah as having the flavor of "wafers made with honey" (Exodus. 16:31).
Although honey was held in great esteem, there is a strict prohibition in the Torah against bringing an offering of honey on the altar of the Beth Hamikdosh. In this respect honey was treated like leaven, which was also forbidden. Even the incense (Ktoreth) -which was composed of eleven kinds of spices, all of them with the exception of one-sweet-smelling and fragrant; to which, if only a drop of honey were added, the perfume would have been overpowering (according to Bar Kappara) -even the Ktoreth was not to have a drop of honey in it, because of the said prohibition. The Torah does not explain why honey was not to be offered at the altar. But in some holy sources one reason, at least, is given: Honey, like leaven, causes fermentation, and is symbolic of the unruly human nature, and of certain bad traits of character like pride, conceit, arrogance. The prohibition of bringing honey (and leaven) to the altar was to remind the people that G-d detests conceit and arrogance, but loves humility and self-discipline. All meal offerings and baked cakes brought to the altar were therefore of unleavened flour and without honey. The only exception was the two loaves of wheat bread, which were brought as "Bikkurim" on the festival of Shovuoth. These were leavened bread (chametz). They were not offered on the altar, but given to the Kohanim.
In connection with the festival of Shovuoth, the Season of the Giving of the Torah, which we are celebrating this month, honey assumes an especial significance for us. Because of its sweetness and high nourishing value, honey is used in the Torah as a metaphor, or symbol, of the Torah. Like honey the Torah is very sweet to the one who can grasp some of its profound wisdom, and it is the "food" which sustains the soul. King Solomon said, "Honey and milk are under thy tongue" (Shir Hashirim 4: 11), referring to the words of the Torah which the Jewish people speak and study. It is therefore fitting that honey should be used on this Yom Tov. Because the Torah is also likened to milk, this is one of the reasons why it is customary to eat also dairy dishes (such as cheesecake and blintzes) on Shovuoth.
There is another occasion when we use honey at our table in a symbolic way. It is on the night of Rosh Hashanah, when we take a piece of sweet apple, dip it in honey and say a short prayer (in addition to the usual blessing), praying that G-d should renew a "good and sweet year" unto us. It is not only a good and sweet year in 'material blessings that we have in mind, but also a good and sweet year in our spiritual life, the daily life in full accord with the Torah and Mitzvoth, which are "sweeter than honey and the honeycomb" (Ps. 19:11).