2016-09-28 / Religion Column

Remember that Rosh Hashanah is a day to ‘BEE Happy’

RABBI EPHRAIM EPSTEIN
Congregation Sons of Israel

When Rosh Hashanah arrives, we surround ourselves with sweetness. We serve Raisin Challahs and Tzimmis (sweet carrots); and many abstain from bitter and sour foods as a symbol of hope for a sweet new year. Perhaps the most celebrated food served on the Rosh Hashanah menu is honey. We spread it on Challah, we drip it skillfully onto apples, and it is a vital ingredient in the ubiquitous Jewish Apple Cake. But honey is as enigmatic as it is sweet.

Think about it for a moment, from a kosher cow we enjoy kosher milk, cheese and meat (not at the same time). From the epitome of non-kosher species—the pig— comes forth non-kosher milk and meat. So how then shall we understand that from the non-kosher bee comes forth kosher honey?

The Talmud in Bechorot 7B advances the question and answers that since honey is not produced intrinsically by the bee, rather it is only produced in the bee from outside sources it maintains its kosher status even though the honey making process takes place in the non-kosher bee. Therefore Maimonides and the Code of Jewish Law—The Shulchan Aruch—rule that honey is kosher.

Yet there is a deeper thought to be understood from the bee and her honey. Namely, that just like kosher honey can emerge from a non-kosher source, the bee; so too from our non-kosher acts, thoughts and deeds over the last year can spring forth sincere repentance, goodness and improvement. Everyone knows the upbeat phrase, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade;” on Rosh Hashanah we can modify it to be, when life stings like a bee, learn from your sins, and become kosher like honey.

While Rosh Hashanah contains serious messages regarding our inscription in the books of life or Gd forbid death, it also presents themes of love and joy together with inner peace and serenity. Whereas the liturgy on Yom Kippur is filled with aids for regret, repentance and renewal, Rosh Hashanah prayers are noticeably different. In fact many authorities maintain that the first line in the Avinu Malkeynu that reads, “Our Father our King, we have sinned in front of You” should not be recited on Rosh Hashanah. If so, what indeed is the theme of Rosh Hashanah? What is our task and goal on Rosh Hashanah?

The task on Rosh Hashanah is to re-coronate G-d as our King. Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of the world; and the day G-d became King over His creation. Therefore our thoughts, prayers and focus of that day is to reckon with our Creator and renew our commitment to serve G-d and walk in His footsteps (follow His lead).

Therefore the mood on Rosh Hashanah should be seriously joyous. While it may not be a time for fun and games like Purim, it is most definitely a time of gratitude, hope and love that we feel from G-d and towards one another.

The holy instrument that represents the great day of Rosh Hashanah is the Shofar, which actually translates as “improvement.” The core note we listen to from the Shofar is the Teruah. The Hebrew word Teruah means both a cry and “loving fellowship.”

This Rosh Hashanah, let’s aim to experience both elements of the day; the cry towards improvement and love and fellowship towards Hashem and to people.

Most of all, after all of the preparations, prayers and rituals “BEE Happy!”

Chag Somayach! 

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