Every year, the air begins to turn crisp, scattered leaves crunch under our feet, children return to school, and routines begin to stabilize. It's at this time that apples are at their ripest, ready to be picked.
Every September for the last 10 years, the air begins to shift, and I visit an apple orchard. I walk through the seemingly endless rows of apple trees and admire the red and green apples that hang from them. Some apples are misshapen, some are big and round and beautiful, some have worms in them, and some are small but still taste sweet. Every September, I am in awe of all that these trees have grown. It is like a whole world has been created in a year's time, and only the orchard workers are there to witness it.
After a full year of the trees’ hibernation, budding, pollination, and apple growth, people like me visit apple orchards and pick the final apple product to their hearts' content. It happens year after year after year after year. And every year during this season of both ripening and transitions, the Jewish new year of Rosh Hashanah enters our lives.
Rosh Hashanah (literally translated as Head of the Year) begins this year after sundown on September 29th. Rosh Hashanah is considered to be the day that the world was born. Many Jews spend the day in synagogue thanking God for the miracle of creation. They consider what their actions were throughout the past year, and they think about how they can do better in this new year.
While these are the liturgical rituals that mark Rosh Hashanah in the synagogue, two foods at home epitomize the flavor of the holiday: apples and honey. On Rosh Hashanah, Jewish people across America and across the world sit at tables for a Rosh Hashanah meal with these two items laid in front of them, so they partake in dipping apples into honey.
Some people prepare for Rosh Hashanah by making beautiful apple dishes or by visiting family and friends and wishing them a “shanah tovah u’metukah” – a good and sweet new year. Others prepare through study, through prayer, or through self-reflection. All of these are wonderful ways to prepare for Rosh Hashanah. For me, I find that I understand Rosh Hashanah best when I engage in my yearly ritual of wandering through apple orchards.
The apple tree has come to teach me that year after year after year after year, we go through our own cycles of life. We, like an apple tree, are always evolving, creating, resting, and planning. Once the year is over, the new year, Rosh Hashanah comes back into our lives. We get the chance to examine what we've produced over the year and how we've grown. Is the result like an apple that is big, round, and beautiful – something that we're proud of? Is it something misshapen and full of holes – something that we wish we'd paid more attention to? Or is it somewhere in between?
Whatever kind of apple that we've grown, on Rosh Hashanah, we add honey. Apples are for what we've made, and is honey for the sweetness of the new year's potential.
May we learn from our past, and may we always find sweetness in the days to come.
L'shanah tovah u'metukah; may this new year be good and sweet!
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