Do you know (and I myself just found this out) the REAL reason we use Honey on Rosh HaShana? Sure sure, the easy answer – it’s the obvious choice when picking a “sweet” food, but did you know there’s a hidden symbolic significance as well? (get excited – I’m about to tell you)
The hidden reason is because Honey comes from bees – and bees aren’t really loveable creatures because of their oh-so wonderful stinger. SOOOO bees, even though they sting, create a beautiful and wonderfully sweet food. (Have you figured out the answer yet?) The concept is – that at times in life we get “stung” and it really isn’t fun. But, we are reminded that even when our life feels like one big bee sting after another, there is honey to be found right around the corner (or beehive). We specifically use honey on Rosh HaShana to tell us that throughout the year, we hope and pray for only REVEALED blessings and prosperity aka HONEY – but we should keep our faith even when we only feel the sting of the bee.
Isn’t that a pretty cool concept? Well, I thought it was cool 🙂
SOOOOOO what’s with all the symbolism on Rosh HaShana? It’s all around us – it’s like we live in Shakespeare’s world where every nuance and word is symbolic of some greater scheme. A head of fish, apples with honey, challah with honey, carrots, pomegranates – all our holiday meals are centered around foods that are symbolic of blessing and abundance.
There are countless of articles on the meanings and significances behind our specialized Rosh HaShana menus, but I’d like to throw something slightly different out there.
“It’s all about the atmosphere”
I believe that when we map out our Rosh HaShana menus, designing the Yom Tov tables – it’s all about creating a certain atmosphere. Using our different senses – smelling the raisin challah baking – tasting the apples n’ honey, it all adds up to an ambiance found in our homes that leave a lasting impression upon us all. I’m sure my psychology major friends can give a scientific term to it, but our brains have been trained to associate Rosh HaShana with those specific foods. Imagine eating Apple dipped in Honey in July – would be kind of strange wouldn’t it? We have been programmed to associate these foods with these holidays from a very young age. (I believe this goes back to Pavlov and his Classical Conditioning theory… but like I said, I’ll save this for the Psychology people out there :))
A few years back I was obsessed with my diet. You could wave a freshly baked molten chocolate cake in front of my face and I wouldn’t even flinch. I wouldn’t TOUCH a thing that wasn’t on my diet. And so, when Rosh HaShana came, I did what I had always done – stuck to the foods that were acceptable on my diet – thereby not enjoying ANY of the traditional Yom Tov foods. No challah n’ honey, no apple n’ honey, certainly no sweet carrots or tzimmis (aka – the sugary stuff) – and I hung out with my basic salad, chicken and other pre-approved foods. And I confess, it was the most depressing Rosh HaShana of my life. Sure, I looked hot in my clothes – but I felt deprived that I didn’t get to “enjoy” yom tov because it didn’t feel like a REAL Rosh HaShana. The food was boring and the “atmosphere” wasn’t as meaningful with my simple plate of chicken. But, I will tell you that I will never forget that Rosh HaShana either, because it left an indelible mark on me. The importance of atmosphere of Yom Tov and ultimately the traditions that help create that atmosphere.
(Editor’s Note: While I am a firm believer in using special foods to help establish traditions and a Yom Tov air in the home – I have no doubt that this can be created using healthier options :))
My friend had been cooking up a storm for the holiday of Pesach. She tends to go overboard in her gourmet menus – but she enjoys it so power to her! Anyway, in the days leading up to the Pesach Seder, her husband came home with Kosher Li’Pesach Orange Juice (I believe it was New Square). He set it down on the kitchen table and lovingly told his wife that he bought the O.J so she wouldn’t have to work as hard squeezing those oranges all night long. He wanted to help alleviate the work – and this was a very good way to do it. Her response? Ha – I remember like it was yesterday. She said simply. “Store bought Orange Juice?! I won’t drink that! It’s NOT PESACH without freshly squeezed orange juice!”
While a teensy bit extreme, my friend understood the meaning of “traditions” and “holiday atmosphere” that these are just as important as the actual holiday mitzvos themselves.
So, as we get ready for the new year – let’s remember that it’s the little details and the small traditions that stay with us, and create that special atmosphere to usher in a sweet, healthy and happy new year for all!