As we sit down to our Rosh Hashana meals, all eyes go to the challah/apple ceremoniously (or should I say unceremoniously?) dipped in honey. The kids begin to sing that lifeless ditty to the tune of Oh My Darlin’ Clementine “dip the apple in the honey, make a bracha loud and clear. . . . “ (I can’t recall the rest because we banned that song from our house more than a decade ago). Much ink has been spilled (mostly by the honey lobby) perpetuating this custom of dubious and suspect origin in the name of sweetness for the upcoming year. In keeping with the spirit of the New Jewish Food Movement, perhaps we should critically re-examine this custom and explore alternatives. As a maple syrup producer, may I humbly suggest using maple syrup.
At the outset, given the mystical underpinnings of the “simana d’milsa” – the Rosh Hashana symbols, the kabbalah of honey is worth taking a look at. There’s a certain degree of gevurah (severity) in the entire honey making/collecting process what with 50,000 angry bees buzzing about as if to say “you toucha our honey – we stinga you nose” whereas maples represent the ultimate in chesed (lovingkindness) giving freely of not only their wood and shelter but their sap – their very essence.
Unlike the majestic maples which have their roots firmly anchored in the ground and their branches reaching for the heavens, bees have a real problem thinking out of the box. Even the name “hives” conjures up images of some negative reaction to a food we shouldn’t have eaten. Honey comes in “frames” again an allusion to the inability of the poor bee to transcend his boxlike existence. Sap on the other hand drips lyrically into buckets – conical enclosures open at the top in an upwards spiral reminiscent of the original tzimtzumim (contractions) which accompanied the creation of the world according to the kabbalists of yore.
Plus, bees are racist. It’s true – they don’t like black (I’ve been told it’s because they genetically associate it with the nose of a bear – I learned that the hard way when I went out to my hive one day wearing a black velvet kippah!) Maples on the other hand are warm, embracing and non-discriminatory, offering shade and comfort to all.
Hives are hot and overcrowded and festering with anger and resentment, just waiting to boil over into a rumble. They are drab, propolis encrusted tenements with everyone wearing the same bad suit. Moreover, the hive is separated rigidly into a caste system of workers, drones and a queen. Autocracy is the coin of the realm. Maples, on the other hand, really know how to let their freak flags fly. There are tall maples, short maples, red maples, silver maples, sugar maples, even Japanese maples! They grow at random in the forest on their own schedule – you can’t rush a maple no matter how much you try.
The bee is also the world’s greatest procrastinator. While the maple is champing at the bit to be the first in the spring to give forth fruit, barely waiting for the snows to melt, the bees are huddled together in an apian ménage a 50,000 waiting for warmer weather. (Truth be told, there is a nascent self-improvement movement among the bees. I’ve even seen little motivational posters in the hives bearing such witticisms as “wake up and smell the flowers” and “anything for the buzz”).
Then there’s the music. When you get near a hive, you first hear it – that angry, mindless, whining buzz intoning “danger, danger, run the other way! I’d turn back if I were you.” The pastoral maple however exudes a musical symphony with every drop of sap resonating through the snow festooned forest. It’s beyond kum-ba-ya (incidentally, my colleague Howard Cohen once asked me why I was so anti kum-ba-ya. He told me that the phrase was actually Hebrew – Kum Ba Y-ah and meant “Arise, for the Lord cometh” I told him it was indeed Hebrew but that it really meant Kum – Baaya “Let’s go – there’s a problem” but I digress).
Finally, there’s the whole honey – money thang. Selling bottles of syrup to raise money for Israel trips and the like. That’s like so yesterday. Maple is on the cutting edge of Jewish philanthropy. Just check out www.sweetwhisperfarms.com/rockmaple They don’t say “Rock Maple means Just Maple” for nothing! So this Rosh Hashana, when you’re gathered around the table, break out a bottle of Vermont Grade A Dark Amber and sing along with your kids:
“Dip the apple in the honey,
Make a bracha loud and clear.
But if you use maple syrup,
You will have a sweeter year”
Shana Tova and a year full of “sweet” blessings from Shlomo, Tova, Rivky and me.