Rabbi Jay SperoWhy do we eat an apple on Rosh Hashana? Sure an apple is sweet, but so are grapes. What is special about the apple?
When Yakov came in to receive the brocha from Yitzchok, Yitzchok smelled
the scent of Yakov's clothing, and said, "see the smell of my son is
like the smell of a field" (Toldos 27:27). Rashi quotes the Gemara in Ta'anis that says that Yaakov smelled like an apple orchard. The Shelah writes that this is why we use on apple on Rosh Hashana.
What is the significance of a Tzadik (Yaakov Aveinu) smelling like an
apple orchard? What is the reasoning behind the Shelah's comment?
The Gemara in Shabbos (88a) asks what is the meaning of the posuk in Shir
Hashirim (2:3): "Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest"? The
Gemara answers that this refers to the Jewish people, that just as an
apple tree is unique in that its fruit comes before its leaves (unlike
other trees whose leaves come before its fruit), so too the Jewish
people, who said "we will do and we will listen" (na'aseh v'nishma) are
unique-- unlike other nations who want to know what they are accepting
before they accept it.
Tosfos questions the Gemara and states that this posuk in Shir Hashirim
is not referring to the Jewish people, but to Hashem ? Tosfos does not offer
an answer (but suggests a different posuk in Shir Hashirim).
However, the Nefesh Hachaim gives a beautiful answer. Shir Hashirim is a
series of dialogues between the Jewish people and the Hashem. The Nefesh
Hachaim explains that if the Jewish people perceived Hashem to be similar
to an apple tree, that is because the Jewish people are similar to an apple
tree. The Gemara in Brochos (6a) explains that just as we wear Tefilin
that expound on the oneness of Hashem (Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu
Hashem Echad), so does Hashem wear Tefilin that expounds on the oneness
of His beloved nation (Who is like Yisroel, a unique nation in the world;
Divre Hayamim 1). This shows that Hashem gave us a tremendous gift: the
ability to have a reciprocal relationship with Him. That is how we have
the awesome responsibility on Rosh Hashana to crown Hashem as King.
And when Hashem sings our praises and says we are special,because we had
so much trust in Him that even before we knew what was in the Torah we
were willing to accept it, what is the reciprocal side of this? When
Hashem was willing to give us the Torah based on our acceptance, even
before there was act, because He had trust in us. This illuminates the
special relationship we have with Hashem, and when we eat the apple
this Friday night, we must contemplate while eating the apple the
uniqueness of this relationship.