Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year and Jewish people believe that on Rosh Hashanah each and every being comes before G-d in judgment. G-d reviews the behavior of each individual in the past year and decides whether they will be inscribed for a good or bad year. There are two consecutive days of Rosh Hashanah and although a large portion of them is spent praying, large festive meals are also held in the evenings and in the day. There is a custom to eat foods that symbolize the kind of year we wish upon ourselves on Rosh Hashanah. The most well-known food eaten customarily on Rosh Hashanah is apple dipped in honey.
The custom of eating apple dipped in honey is first mentioned in the Orach Chayim by the Tur who explains that such was the custom in Germany where the Rosh Hashanah meals would be started by eating a piece of apple dipped in honey and requesting from G-d a sweet new year. The honey is obviously sweet and the assumption is that the apple is chosen due to it’s natural sweetness.
There is a beautiful explanation suggested by Rabbi Aron Moss on the Chabad website for the choice of apple and honey on Rosh Hashanah. He says that apples are unsurprisingly sweet due to their being fruit. What he finds interesting is that fact that honey, that is even sweeter than apples, are produced by the stinging bee!
Rabbi Moss then explains how these two different types of sweetness represent sweetness in our lives. There are times of sweetness in our lives- in our personal lives, in our careers and in our personal relationships. These times are naturally sweet like the apple. Then there are times of challenge that lead to eventual sweetness. At times of loneliness, when things aren’t going how we planned, when tragedies strike and when we disappoint ourselves.
When we are going through challenges it often seems unbearable, we can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, if we remain strong in such times we can offer discover things about ourselves that we would never have discovered otherwise. When tested a deepness is revealed that can’t be revealed under normal circumstances. We are all capable in looking back at events in our lives that were truly challenging and reflecting on how thankful we are for having had to go through them and how they built us as a person.
This, according to Rabbi Aron Moss, is the reason we eat apples and honey on the first day of the Jewish year. It is our way of blessing ourselves and others that the year ahead should be full of sweetness in all it’s disguises.