2015-09-02 / Religion Column

This Rosh Hashanah, learn to let it bee

RABBI EPHRAIM EPSTEIN
Congregation Sons of Israel

The buzz of Rosh Hashanah is in the air. All around the Jewish world families have been extending invitations to holiday meals, purchasing High Holiday tickets for synagogue services and buying new clothing for the holidays awaiting the arrival of the New Year—5776.

Perhaps the most well known custom on the Rosh Hashanah festival is the presence of honey on the table. Whether you spread it on Challah, dip an apple in a plate of honey, or you eat honey cake, honey is a staple at the Rosh Hashanah celebration.

Why? What is so special and important about honey for Rosh Hashanah?

On the surface, the answer is because honey is sweet, so we consume honey at the start of the year with the hopes and prayers that we along with our nation should experience a sweet new year. There are no shortage of difficulties and challenges that face us individually and nationally. There are those that need health, others need wealth, some need stability and others simply need to feel loved. Nationally, we face existential threats from our self-proclaimed enemies around the globe. We chant vigorously on the High Holidays that through our efforts to repent, pray and share charity, evil decrees will be abated. We ingest the sweet taste of honey with a sense of Jewish optimism that this year will be sweeter.

A second answer is because the Jewish people are inextricably connected to our ancestral homeland, Israel. The Torah describes Israel as a land that flows with milk and honey. The relationship between the people of Israel and the land of Israel is bigger than politics and cultural struggles. Israel is the only foreign destination a Jew can travel to and feel at home and secure and nowadays instantly achieve citizenship. Throughout the millennia of our national exile from Israel, wherever we lived in the Diaspora, Jews always prayed towards Jerusalem, prayed for the peace of Jerusalem, and longed for the return of G-d’s open presence in Zion. Therefore, no matter where in the world a Jew finds himself on Rosh Hashanah, he eats honey and is reminded of our eternal connection to the Holy Land.

While answer #2 is compelling, it is also problematic because the honey referred to in the Torah is Date Honey and not Bee Honey. So why do we eat Bee Honey on Rosh Hashanah?

The answer is because there is a great lesson to be learned from Bee Honey. The permissibility of eating bee’s honey seems to fly in the face of a general principle of kashrut: the product of a non-kosher animal is non-kosher (Mishnah, Bechorot 5b; Rambam, Ma’achalot Asurot, 1:5). Thus, for example, camel’s milk, ostrich eggs, and catfish roe are not kosher. Yet despite its origins, bee’s honey is kosher.

The great lesson for Rosh Hashanah is that with the coming of the New Year we have the divinely granted opportunity to make our lives right. We can improve, change and grow and be awarded a clean and kosher slate. Just as sweet kosher honey can emanate from a nonkosher bee, a sweet New Year can be attained no matter what happened in the past if we immerse ourselves in Jewish tradition and Mitzvoth.

This Rosh Hashanah, let’s let it bee.

Shana Tova and Chag Somayach! .

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