Dip the Apple in the Honey

Here are three thoughts related to the siman, the mnemonic practice, of eating an apple dipped in honey. (Aside from the ear-worm you or your kid learned in preschool that starts with the words in the post’s subject line.)

1- The original Bostoner Rebbe commented on the expression “Shanah tovah umsuqah – a good and sweet new year”, which is what we ask Hashem for when eating the apple with honey. What does “umsuqah — and sweet” add, beyond the notion of “tovah — good”?

As Rabbi Aqiva often said, “All that the All Merciful does, He does for the good”. An echo of the words of one of his rabbeim, Nachum ish Gamzu, who would greet events that would disappoint or depress most of us with “Gam zu letovah — this too is for the best.” So actually, wishing one another a good year could be thought of as being redundant. Everything is good, how could this year be any different? However, not everything I was told was “for my own good” was particularly pleasant.

Therefore, the rebbe teaches, we wish that the year not only be tovah, good, but also be mesuqah, sweet to our perception as well.

(This topic got its own post with other examples of the difference between good, and good we can enjoy, at “Shetir’u baTov“. Which is also included in my Aseres Yemei Teshuvah Reader.)

2- A bee flies from flower to flower collecting nectar to make honey. A single bee makes about 1/12 of an teaspoon of honey in its lifetime, and it takes about 21,000 flowers to make that teaspoon of honey for your tea. (Think of the teamwork a whole jar of honey represents!)

In nature, apples are pollinated by bees. Exclusively.
What the bee colony does to survive “just so happens” to benefit the trees as well. From the apple’s perspective, the sweetness of the honey is a byproduct of the journey.
So, dipping that apple in honey gives us an occasion to think about everything it took to get that apple to our holiday table. Perhaps a lesson we can take is that the sweetness we seek for the new year can come from taking time to appreciate the depth of every miracle Hashem already provides us.
3a- Honey: Rav Meir Shapiro (Rosh Yeshiva Chakhmei Lublin, 1887-1933) notes that bee honey is the only food that is kosher yet comes from a non-kosher source, and can even contain dissolved bee parts and still be kosher. This is due to a pasuq that implies that honey is kosher (and reasoning about how bees don’t actually add to the nectar is post-facto explanation). This property — something permissible and tasty coming from something prohibited — makes it very representative of teshuvah.

3b- Apple: When Yaaqov came before Yitzchaq to receive the blessing dressed up like Eisav, he seemed to be Eisavv to the touch and what was left of Yitzchaq’s sight. But ad for smell, Yitzchaq declared, “the smell of my son is like the smell of a field which G-d has blessed.” (Bereishis 27:27). In Qabbalah, this field is identified as an apple orchard, which is a metaphor for heaven, and for immersion in Torah.

The apple thus reminds us of a metaphor for heaven, and where it is we are trying to go.

And combined, the apple in honey teaches us that the route to the “sacred apple orchard” is

כִּי שֶׁבַע יִפּוֹל צַדִּיק וָקָם וּרְשָׁעִים יִכָּשְׁלוּ בְרָעָה׃

Because seven times the righteous person falls and gets up, while the wicked are vanquished by tragedy.

– Mishlei 24:16

(Or at least the smell is described as that of a tapuach orchard, and tapuach is normally translated apple. Tosafos hold it’s an esrog. Apples are not native to Israel, and Yitzchaq was never outside of Israel to speak of orchards found in colder parts of the world. And besides, the Gemara says that the esrog is a rarity that the tree tastes like the fruit. Therefore, a person who walked through an esrog orchard and brushed among its trees, would smell pleasantly like esrog. Not so of apple trees. But in most opinions, the translation of “tapuach” to mean the apple is pretty firmly entrenched. And that’s all a mnemonic practice needs).

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