The Bee’s Honey
יהי רצון מלפניך...שתחדש עלינו שנה טובה ומתוקה
May it be Your will… that You renew for us a good and a sweet year
One of the most widespread customs associated with the night of Rosh Hashanah is that of consuming various food items – e.g. carrots, leeks, beets, dates, pomegranates, head of a fish – for a good omen. Intending to serve as a source of merit for our upcoming year, we hope that we will be blessed with a new year filled with prosperity, success and productivity.
Of the many foods eaten, arguably so, the apple and honey serve as one of the main highlights. Taking an apple and dipping it into honey, we wish that the year we are about to embark upon be full of sweetness.
Yet, this is not the only instance in which honey plays a significant role in Judaism. In praise of the Land of Israel, the Torah tells us that it is a “Land flowing with milk and honey” (Shemot 13:5). Nevertheless, there is a clear distinction between the nature of honey mentioned in this verse and that which we use on the night of Rosh Hashanah. As explained by Chazal (Ketubot 111b), the honey referred to in this Pasuk is that of date’s honey. And as common custom has it, the honey used to dip our apple in on the night of Rosh Hashanah is that of a bee. Yet why is that so? Why in fact do we not use date’s honey and instead resort to bee’s honey?
As any keen observer would quite quickly notice, the manner in which honey is obtained from a date and a bee are strikingly different. When a date is crushed, its honey easily and smoothly flows straight out. Little more is necessary to attain the desired honey from within the date. It is in this respect that Eretz Yisrael is praised as a land flowing with honey. When the Jewish people abide by the Torah, the Land produces an overabundance of blessings, including sweet honey, which is easily obtainable and accessible by all.
But such is not the case with bee’s honey. Aside from the arduous process which the bee undergoes in producing the honey, the concerted effort needed to procure the honey subsequently is not so simple and easy a task. Needing to contend with the bees and circumvent their stinging efforts used to protect themselves and their honey, only after much labor can one anticipate returning with anything.
Yet that is the very point. Our definition of a sweet new year is a year of effort and accomplishment, of labor and fulfillment. We are not simply looking to enjoy an easy year where we do not work and feel any sense of achievement. Quite to the contrary, we recognize that by exerting ourselves to confront challenging situations and overcome them, we will attain the sweetest life possible.
Such is the message of the bee’s honey. A sweet year is a year of fulfillment, of attainment and of satisfaction. Yet we understand that such sweet feelings are only a byproduct of hard work and much effort. And that is best represented by the bee’s honey. If we wish to enjoy such sweetness, there is no better place to look for it than the beehive.