There are numerous symbolic foods associated with Rosh Hashanah. The most popular of these is honey… into which we typically dip either apples or challah (or eager fingers!). The meaning seems clear. We aspire to a year of sweetness… of good things and good news, happiness, safety, and celebration: all that brings sweetness to life.

Scripture refers to the Land of Israel as flowing with “milk and honey.” Our Rosh Hashanah treat calls to mind our intimate connection to (and responsibilities to) the Jewish State… expressing our hopes that a sweet future awaits Israelis, as well.

Honey was traditionally placed by Jewish educators on the slates of young schoolchildren beginning their religious studies – that they might associate sweetness with learning, and come to embrace its joys and value. Thus, Friedrich Nietzsche: “Our treasure lies in the beehive of our knowledge. We are perpetually on the way thither, being by nature winged insects and honey gatherers of the mind.”

Honey also serves as a reminder to practice human kindness. Marcus Aurelius urged: “We ought to do good to others as simply as a horse runs, or a bee makes honey.” Or, as in Proverbs 16:24 – “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweet to the palate, a cure for body and soul.”

(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)

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