7 Cheshvan 5781 / Sunday, October 25, 2020 | Torah Reading: Lech Lecha
 
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Apples and Honey    

Apples and Honey



The Rosh Hashanna custom of dipping apples in honey is not some childish way to arouse sleepy children at the holiday table – it’s deeply rooted in Jewish esoteric thought…

 



The custom of dipping an apple into honey on Rosh Hashanah has become an emblem of the Day of Judgment. The custom is first cited by the Tur (Orach Chayim #583), who tells us, "In Germany it is customary to start the Rosh Hashanah meal by dipping a sweet apple into honey, asking Hashem to bless us with a sweet new year." Presumably we dip an apple, as opposed to any other fruit, because the apple's natural sweetness reinforces the theme of sweetness. The Maharil (c. 1400) isn't satisfied with this reasoning. As he writes in Hilchot Rosh Hashanah, "Are there no sweeter fruits than the apple? It is obvious that the reason for dipping an apple is related to the apple orchard's Kabbalistic connotations, which are alluded to in Bereishit 27:27."

The verse the Maharil refers to is describing Yitzchak's impression of Yakov when Yakov came to him to be blessed:
 
[Yakov] came close [to Yitzchak] and kissed him, and Yitzchak smelled the scent of Yakov's garments. He blessed him saying, "See that the scent of my son is like that of the orchard with which Hashem has blessed him!" (Bereishit 27:27).
 
Yitzchak was referring to an apple orchard. (Targum Yonatan ad loc.; Ta'anit 29b)
 
Although the Kabbalistic implications of an apple orchard are beyond the scope of our essay, we may gain a better understanding of the overt implications of Yakov's "apple orchard" upon considering the following two sources:
 
(1) The Vilna Gaon (Orach Chayim 583:1) contends that "it is well known" that Yakov was blessed by father on Rosh Hashanah. (The Midrashim we commonly refer to maintain that the story took place on the eve of Passover -- see Rashi Bereishit 27:7. The Gaon's source is the Rayah Mehemna, Parashat Emor [p. 99b] -- a Kabbalistic Midrash.)
 
(2) The Gemara (Sanhedrin 37a) tells us that instead of translating the verse, "Yitzchak smelled the scent of Yakov's *garments* (B'gadav)," we should read, "Yitzchak smelled the scent of Yakov's *rebellious children* (Bog'dav)." Even the rebellious children of Yakov let off a scent as sweet as that of the apple orchard. The context of this teaching is one of repentance. Although he may have sinned terribly, a Jew's repentance is always imminent. [-- See also Bereishit Rabba to our verse].
 
When Yitzchak smelled the scent of an apple orchard, he realized that Yakov's children were truly worthy of blessing. He saw in the sweet scent of apples an omen that even when Yakov's children become entrenched in sin, they have the ability to swiftly extract themselves from their plight. Love of Hashem was so much a part of Yakov that he passed that love along to his children as an almost hereditary trait. This ability to love Hashem and return to Him from any distance is represented by the scent of an apple orchard.
 
Similarly, we remind ourselves by dipping an *apple* on Rosh Hashanah eve, that no matter how much we sin, we have the "scent of the apple orchard" about us. We can quickly redeem ourselves if we but wake up our inner longing for Hashem. Then we will be worthy of the blessings of Hashem!
 
 
The custom is, as stated, to dip the apple into *honey*. Other customs of dipping have been recorded. The Hagahot Ashiri (in the beginning of Massechet Rosh Hashanah) used to dip the head of a ram into honey. We are accustomed to dipping Challa into honey. The common denominator between the various customs is that the dipping is always in honey. Aside from the obvious connection between sweetness and honey, the Maharil (Hilchot Rosh Hashanah) brings an abundance of sources from Torah, Nevi'im, and Ketuvim, for eating honey on Rosh Hashanah. We may suggest yet another source for this custom.
 
The Midrash HaZohar (Parashat Pinchas, p.231) tells us that where the term "Vayehi Hayom" (It was that day) is used in Tanach, it is discussing Rosh Hashanah. In Shmuel I (14:1), that term is used to describe the day that Yonatan, the son of King Sha'ul, miraculously saved the Jews from the hands of the invading P'lishti (Philistine) forces. On that fateful day, Sha'ul had the entire army of the Bnai Yisroel take an oath not to eat until the evening, after the war would be over (Ibid 14:24). We are told:
 
Yonatan didn't hear his father make the people take an oath. He stretched out the end of the stick that was in his hand, dipped it into the canes of honey [that were to be found along the road] and brought it to his mouth. His eyes [which had until now been blinded by starvation -- see Yoma 83b] lit up. (Ibid 14:27)
 
When Sha'ul realized that someone had betraying the oath he cast lots, saying, "Hashem, Hava Tamim -- make this lot reveal the truth! (-- see Zohar Shmot 18:1 -- "Hava: always is an invitation to do *justice*... as in "Hava Tamim"). When it was discovered that Yonatan, his own son, was the one who had eaten, Sha'ul pronounced a death sentence upon him. Only after the people pleaded with him to reconsider did Sha'ul rescind his decree and allow Yonatan to live (Ibid 14:45).
 
The verses describing the repeal of Yonatan's sentence are recited as an omen of peace and well-being (Berachot 55b). By dipping an apple in honey, we appeal to Hashem to pardon us and grant us life, just as Yonatan, was granted life after the death sentence was already pronounced upon him, on that Rosh Hashanah of years past !
 
 
(Rabbi Mordechai Kornfeld of Har Nof, Jerusalem is an acclaimed Torah scholar who initiated the Daf Yomi Advancement Forum)




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