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When life gives you apples…



We’re used to the famous saying about lemons and making lemonade. But what do we do when we are handed something sweeter and rounder? Something that isn’t sour and doesn’t cause us to pucker? Well, that’s Rosh Hashanah. The beginning of a new year. A clean slate.

Now, not all apples are born equal either, because a Granny Smith might indeed bring on a bit of that sour face pucker whilst a Starking or Golden Delicious will deliver true sweetness, but perhaps with less crispness. Choices. Decisions. And yet this piece isn’t really about apples, whilst it is.

Rosh Hashanah is about symbolism, reflection, and opportunity. The apple, in this instance, is the symbol for a whole year. And anyone with even the slightest interest in the role apples have played throughout civilization, will recall it’s the cause of original sin with Eve, whilst also the eureka gravity moment when one fell on Isaac Newton’s head. It was deliberately placed on William Tell’s son’s head that Tell needed to shoot an arrow through. And, Snow White was poisoned by one. So, whilst the apple has played a central role in many biblical, scientific, and literary tales, on Rosh Hashanah, it’s seen as the promise of a full year. Plainly put, it’s the wish and hope to live from this Rosh Hashanah until the next one as G-d either inscribes us in the Book of Life. Or not.

Now nowhere does a full or whole year remotely promise a perfect year. There’s sadly no such thing as “a perfect year”, much as we may hope for one. Unless, of course, one has both low expectations and even lower self-awareness. Both would defeat its symbolic role and purpose here, so we won’t dwell on it. Perhaps it’s a complicated Jewish observation for another time. Not Rosh Hashanah.

The reason I point out that the apple doesn’t promise perfection – remember Eve again – is that a full year and a whole year is hopefully the gift of time. The choice is what we do with the next 365 days. And in that, we find meaning. Therefore, these days must be used carefully as a specific time of reflection. Because life has given us apples. Now what to do about it?

And here the “lowly” insect comes into our story. Were you not to follow a bee home, you’d just see a tiny six legged, yellow and black, striped, winged insect buzzing from flower to flower collecting pollen on its legs. Were you to take an even closer look, you may get a nasty sting. And, the insect would die. (And so might a person. There are about 86 bee deaths per year and only 11 from sharks. So, a bee is almost eight times more likely to kill a person than a shark. As I said, it’s a time for reflection.) Yet, as is commonly known, if all the bees in the world died, humans would too, and much animal life. Were humans to die, however, the planet would thrive. But again, this isn’t the stuff of this particular piece. Although, like I said, it’s a time for reflection.

Why do I mention what your observation may be if you didn’t follow the bee home? If you didn’t get to know it, you’d never discover it made honey. And how true of so many people around us each and every day that we never get to know. We never experience their magic. Something to consider, perhaps?

And so, the humble honeybee provides us not with the sting, or cross pollination, but with the key ingredient to help symbolise not just a whole new year, but the hope for a sweet one too, by dipping the apple into the honey on both the first and second night of Rosh Hashanah.

Something we also give little consideration to is the name “rosh” – the head of the year. But the word also means a head. Your head. And we’re encourage to use our kop, noggin, to think things through. To consider, to reflect. To ask forgiveness from our family, friends, and associates for any transgressions, both known and unknown against them. To reflect on our lifestyles, our health, and fitness for the coming year. Heard the expression “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”? In this case, it’s metaphoric. The reminder of those well-intentioned promises we make to ourselves and to Hashem over this particular period of both opportunity and judgement. And judgement here, at this time, is only to be made by G-d. Not by us humans.

So, what will you do with your “apples” this year? Is it going to be a time of momentary reflection and good intentions, but then settling back into “same old”? Or are you going to begin something new? Are you going to plant apple trees? Or have an apiary? How will you contribute to making your life more meaningful? More enjoyable? More purposeful? None of these are judgements. Heaven forbid right now! Just questions. Because wherever we may find ourselves, there’s so much we can do to make our year fuller and sweeter by making a difference, small or big in our lives, which might have huge benefits also for those around us. Apple vinegar? Apple cider? Or apple pie? Our choices, right now, to use wisely. Wishing you all a shana tova umetukah (a good and sweet year).

  • Mike Abel is the founding partner and chief executive officer of MC Saatchi Abel.

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