I always associated going to synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with heaviness, guilt and a somberIs it fitting to be so upbeat? atmosphere. I guess that's what I grew up with. But last year I came to your services and found them to be happy, light, musical and joyous. I enjoyed the experience, but I’m wondering, is it fitting to be so upbeat on days when we are seeking forgiveness for our sins? Sorry for being so direct, but is what you are doing authentic, or just about feeling good?


There is a curious discussion in Jewish law about bees’ legs:

What happens if a bee's leg falls off and gets stuck in a vat of honey? Bees are not kosher, and detached bees’ legs can't always be extracted from honey. Does that mean that the whole vat is non-kosher?

One opinion says no. The honey is kosher and you can eat it, bee legs and all. Because one of the fascinating properties of honey is that foreign bits that fall into it eventually become honey too. The bee legs dissolve and lose their distinct identity, so there is nothing non-kosher left, just honey.

What is unique about honey as it’s described in Jewish literature is that it doesn't overpower with brute force, like fire which violently consumes whatever it touches. Honey overpowers with sweetness. The sweetness of honey is so intense that everything it touches is overwhelmed and succumbs to its sweet embrace.

This power of honey represents a deeper approach to the High Holidays. Yes, these are somber times, and there is a real need to return to G‑d. But the introspection and good resolutions that these days inspire need not come from a place of guilt. We don't repent out of fear of fire and brimstone. Rather, when we experience the sweetness of DivineImmerse yourself in joyful Judaism love, when we feel how close G‑d is to us and what a blessing it is to be a Jew, our joy can melt away whatever is evil and purify us from our less than kosher ways.

This is why we start the High Holidays by dipping challah and apple in honey. Only a Judaism that is infused with sweetness and joy has the power to dissolve negativity, cynicism and indifference, and make us all kosher again. Sadness and heaviness will not cleanse our soul. But the experience of sweetness will.

So don't just dip your apple in honey, immerse yourself in joyful Judaism. It's the bee's knees.

I take this opportunity to wish you a year of overwhelming sweetness; may all bee legs in all their forms melt away.

(Sources: Shem Mishmuel 5681; Tosfos Avodah Zara 69a, Hahu.)

Note: In an actual case where insect parts are found in food, an authority on Jewish law should be consulted as the law is complex