Why do we sweeten our challah and apples with honey the first night of Rosh HaShanah? It is commonly known that the foods are Simanim, signs, that we should have a sweet year. (Our belief that eating honey has theological effect is a testament to our faith.) But there’s an even more powerful message in that sweet bite.
For a Jew, one of the most amazing things about honey is its kashrut. Bees are not kosher, yet their honey is. No other non-kosher animal can create kosher food! This fact is even more amazing when one considers that no procedure or mitzvah exists to make honey kosher.
Reb Noson, the prized disciple of Reb Nachman of Braslav, explains that in mankind’s ongoing journey, there are two broad categories of Tikkunim, rectifications, that are upheld. There are those for which the people are responsible, and those which God performs. We, humans, must serve Hashem and obey His command. We do what we can, though with imperfections because we are only human. God perfects our imperfect job.
However, because we are human we do not always complete our task. Though sometimes our mistakes are unintentional, sometimes the mistakes are quite intentional. How can our mistakes bring us, as individuals and as a species, to our desired destiny? Reb Noson quotes Rebbe Nachman that, “God is constantly getting the job done.” Reb Noson explains: God will fix and steer events to His desired ending, no matter how badly humans botch the job—if man does Teshuvah, and returns to Hashem’s ways.
This idea illustrates the honey’s lesson. Mankind is imperfect. Yet, God can take our sick and crazy ideas, our poisonous and filthy words, our laziness and greed, our cruelty to ourselves and others, and our disrespect for Him, and turn our badness into good if we do Teshuvah.
(Based on Likutei Halakhot, Beheimah V’Chayah Tehorah 4:45–46)