Apple dipped in honey is one of Rosh Hashanah’s best-known and most beloved customs. Much has been said about honey, as it represents our wish and prayer for a sweet new year, but what about the apple? That got me thinking, so here’s a thought about apples:
Most fruits (like the citrus fruits) grow best down were it’s warmer, like Florida or California, but some fruits grow best in a region like ours, right here in Upstate NY. Drive 15 minutes out of Albany in any direction and you won’t be far from an apple orchard.
An apple is a, or the, classic upstate NY fruit, which ripens (at different stages depending on the type) in early Fall, thanks to the cool nights and warm days this time of year. That’s key: cool nights and warm days. So apples thrive in this region (as well as in the Northwest), because of the cool nights and warm days that we have right here this time of year.
It’s the contrast that makes the apple, the proper tension and careful balance between hot and cold is the desired state. Too much hot would ruin it, just as would a sudden deep freeze. You need the right balance of cool night and warm days.
Hot and cold are metaphors for closeness and distance. Not only in Judaism but even in the hot/cold game that everyone played at least once. Spiritually and emotionally, we tend to think of warm as a positive sign of life and of cold as indifferent, detached, disconnected.
Some might think that the warmer the connection, the better the spiritual fruit. Apples teach us, that it isn’t always so. Sometimes, it’s the cold and warm that makes the best fruit. It’s the pull and strain, the contrast and challenge of both together that makes apples sweet. Maybe a Jew in Jerusalem surrounded by Torah would be considered in a hot spot, whereas a Jew at UAlbany might be considered in a spiritually (and physically) cold place – and the apple teaches us: but that may make for the best fruit! A challenge may make us stronger, the distance may make the heart fonder, the delicate and sensitive balance of cold and warm is what brings out the best in the fruit. But this only works if we don’t go too far to the warmth or to the cold – and is only in play as long as the apple is still connected to the tree. All the warmth and cold doesn’t matter much once it falls off the tree.
There are so many examples of this balance in Jewish learning, especially in Chabad Chassidic thought. indeed, Chabad and the Rebbe’s vision and teaching thrives on such paradoxes!
Go no further than Rosh Hashanah liturgy and the famous “Avinu Malkeinu” prayer first authored by Rabbi Akiva. We speak of G-d as both father and king, we highlight the closeness and the distance, the love and the respect. This is a wonderful approach to any relationship, most certainly with G-d.