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Why apples and why honey at Rosh Hashanah?
Why apples and why honey at Rosh Hashanah, and not bananas or pears, since they too are sweet? A myriad of reasons accompany the ancient tradition of eating apples and honey. One reason is that the apple ripens just at this time and is at its maximum sweetness. Honey is also coming into its own very strongly at this time of year. At the same time though, apples have a tartness to them, even while they are sweet; and honey, while at once sweet, brings with it the honey bee, which can sting. These dualities reflect the real notion that not every day will be sweet. Some days may be bitter and perhaps biting. We must, therefore, attribute both the good and the bad to God and seek to find some aspect of holiness in even those bitter moments.
The apple tree is viewed by King Solomon as exemplary and unique. “Ke tapuch al Hazedeh ken rahayati–as an apple tree in the field is my lover, singular and noted,” he writes in Song of Songs, and so we hope that the Jewish people will achieve a similar status of singularity and noteworthiness. And in the Jewish tradition, an apple tree is connected to the love and intimacy of married partners. Even on Passover, we eat charoset, with apple as its main ingredient, to remember the commitment of a husband and wife to one another, and that they may seek to produce families, even in times of challenge and suffering. As an example, under Egyptian slavery, Jews would sneak away at night from their taskmasters, who sought to disrupt their married life, to find intimacy with their partners.
Interestingly, the Greeks always painted their god of love, Eros, with an Apple in his hand! And the Apple tree was suggested by our sages as possibly the Tree of Knowledge, from which Adam and Eve sinned. If it was the Apple tree that was the source of human failing In the Garden of Eden, then we perform a mitzvah at Rosh Hashanah by confronting temptation and eating an apple, performing a sacred act of commitment to G-d in place of a betrayal. What better way to commit to God than with the fruit that did us in, effecting a spiritual “repair.”
Dr. Gil Yosef Shachar, drawing upon the ideas of Hebrew University Renaissance professor Yael Evans, mentions some other reasons why we bring in the new year with an apple. The apple tree is an extremely efficient tree. It has relatively few leaves, given the abundance of its fruit. It provides little shade as a result, but still optimizes the production of fruit by generating energy through photosynthesis. In fact, apples begin to bud even before the leaves come out. This, too, is an excellent explanation of a good year–a year of productivity and yield with a minimum amount of time and energy expended.
A kindergarten teacher taught me that if you cut an apple in half, you will see a five-pointed star. This is to remember the Divine promise that Israel will be as numerous and vibrant as the stars if we enact the five points of the Teshuva of Repentence: realization, regret, admission of sin, formally asking for forgiveness from those we wrong, and resolving to never give in to temptation when it presents itself.
As we dip the apple in honey this year and say the Bracha, may we be mindful of these many avenues of goodness and sweetness, blessing and success, that relate to apples and honey in this coming year.
Wishing you and yours a Shana Tova u’Metukah–a sweet and healthy New Year! Read More
I am amazed that it is a month since my last article; nothing goes quicker than a summer in New York! I feel that my summer is over before it began. Although the temperature is warm between the high holidays and the start of the football season, Summer is over–GO GIANTS! As you are reading this article, I will be burning the midnight oil and working on my Yom Kippur Apeal speech.
There has been a whirlwind of meetings during the summer. The ENJC team has accomplished so much in a very short time, but September will be awesome. Our Ritual VP, Ed Isaac, is dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” to make sure that all the honors are in place for the High Holidays. Our Education VP, Brad Becker, has been working with our new Principal, Fran Pearlman, on readying the teachers, schedule and new Religious School program. We are all excited about the exciting new ideas, staff and year ahead.
We will be increasing our security for the Holidays. We are asking our congregants to help us help you. All of our ushers will be checking tickets at the front door, so we ask your cooperation by having your tickets in your hand every time you want to enter the building. We will be making no exceptions - all board members must show their tickets too. The only way we can be 100% compliant in making sure we have a safe and secure building is with everyone helping.
Last year we experimented with accepting credit cards, and the board has decided to continue to accept them this year. Please be advised that if you choose to use credit cards to pay your yearly dues, there will be a 2% fee charged. When you make a donation using charge cards, we waive the 2% fee.
Arnie Carter is heading up our Cantor search committee. Arnie and his committee has and will be interviewing many candidates so that they can make the best selection for the future of East Northport Jewish Center.
The Holidays will be different in the Brecher household this year, as both of my children will be home. The last time both were home was 2012. Wow - a lot has changed in 6 years. And it will be nice not having to pay for college this year!
On behalf of my family, I would like to wish all a L’Shannah Tovah! I want to wish all a healthy new year. As we know, nothing in this world can replace health. As my mom always said – “Have a happy and healthy New Year!” –with the emphasis on health. Read More
Deuteronomy begins with the statement, Hoyil Moshe Baer et Hatorah Hazeh, explaining that Moses explicated a Torah document in his last month of life, reviewing it and reflecting upon its meaning. Interestingly, the commentator Nachalat Tzi notes that the word "Baer" should really be the infinitive of "to explicate," leading to a rich additional meaning: that Moses himself had become a "be'er," a wellspring–a Maayan mitgaber, an everflowing fountain of understanding and insight into the profundity of Torah and a fountain to express it to the people.
Look at how far Moses had come, from a person who stuttered and felt he couldn't communicate! He actually exhibits that fear of public speaking. Being summoned by God himself at the burning bush, for most of us, would have been sufficient inspiration. But Moses argues with God, "God, please send someone else..." While here, in Deuteronomy, we see a Moses who is actually a co-author of the fifth book of the Torah, which is the written transcript of his explanatory comments before the people in his last month of life. It makes us ponder that sometimes it's very important to break through perceived limitations no matter how much we hold on to them.
We sometimes have no choice. There are things that make us uncomfortable and situations we avoid. We have notions of our own limitations and we proceed in life pretty much trying to avoid them. We cannot but take them into account. Yet that does not mean that we should be defined by them and ruled by them.
Actually we have words for this, which is a bit of psychobabble, but we call them our fears and our phobias and our "I'd rather nots." An internet site that Google brought me to tells of the six most common of phobias. I'll stop at six because on the seventh we rest! The first most common phobia is mysophobia, the fear of germs. People who succumb to it look like they have OCD, but actually they just have mysophobia. The second most common phobia is pteramahamophobia, or fear of flying. Most of these folks cannot be coaxed onto a plane for even the most important family reunions. Then there is the socialphobic, who has a fear of social gatherings and especially public speaking. Such folks are found inside their homes most of the time. There is the tryptanophobic, the one who fears doctors appointments and especially needles, and the astarophobic who fears thunderstorms. I had a dog like that once, which was so phobic that it ran under the bed, shaking, during thunderstorms. Finally, we end on the six most common of phobias–the cynophobic, who fears man's best friend, the family dog.
Often, people who have severe manifestations of these phobias are doomed to being limited by them, preferring not to confront them. But most of us are somewhere in the more midrange of the spectrum and need, bluntly, the "courage to confront them." Scientists have shown that many of these conditions can be cured by the method of successive approximation–the facing of lesser to eventually more intense examples of the phobia. For instance, with a fear of snakes, folks start with stuffed animal snakes, then eventually rubber ones, and then finally the courageous at heart are ready to encounter and hold a boa constrictor. A willing heart can hopefully one day master fear and reluctance.
Moses is a case in point. This was a guy who didn't like speaking in public. "God," he said numerous times, "I am slow of speech, I stutter, I am heavy of tongue." God's responds with, "Take Aaron with you and he will speak for you." Moses reluctantly agrees and then grows into the job. First he has Aaron as a spokesman, then he lets Aaron hold and use his rod while Moses himself speaks, then Moses has the rod and speaks without Aaron there, and then he speaks without the rod and commands respect. During the plague of locusts, he not only speaks, but by darkness his rod touches heaven. Moses becomes not only great in the eyes of the Hebrews, but he is eventually more greatly respected by the Egyptians than even their Pharaoh. By the time of the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses cannot help but wax eloquent. He's a cross between Shakespeare and Churchill. Two-thirds of the Book is Moses's compelling oratory. He cannot stop talking and motivating.
Heres a poem I wrote, inspired by this evolution:
Moses at first was so reticent
he claimed that he couldn't speak.
He hemmed and he hawed, how could he present?
He had no charisma or cheek.
God said 'enough, Aaron's your mouthpiece.
I'll tell him just the right words to say.
Just take this miracle rod at least
when to Pharaoh the visit you pay.
Moses agrees but soon we shall see
that Aaron's the one with the rod.
Moses is talking quite capably
a switcheroo that is quite odd.
Soon Aaron is along for the ride;
the staff it's not mentioned at all.
And by the fifth plague Aaron's not by his side,
Moses as leader stands tall.
By locusts Moses is raising his staff,
by darkness his hand touches the sky.
At the start, sure he's nervous, his speech full of gaffes
and now get a load of this guy!
At first Moses stutters and mutters,
for talking he hasn't the bent.
But by the fifth book, he elegantly utters,
he's compelling and eloquent.
It gets us thinking, does it not bro,
that our potential we often abort,
when we limit ourselves by saying "no"
when at times we are selling ourselves short.
Learn from Moses that sometimes hard toil
is the way to excel and exceed.
Low expectations are so often our foil
they stop us in way's we'd succeed.
To be honest to ourselves is to admit that we can't do everything well. But our self-imposed limitations so often keep us from even trying. May all of us take stock of our assumed and ingrained limitations. Perhaps we will ask, "Is it really so," and then work on these phobias and limitations. May we, like Moses, blossom into something we never knew we could be, by trying and by working at our phobias, foibles and false assumptions, and let us say, Amen. Read More