Honey, Bees, Torah, and Jews

As You Begin

For every text you and your chevruta (partner) should ask and try to answer a few of the following questions:

  • Do I have any practical / basic understanding level questions that need to be asked? Is there a word or idea that wasn't clear to me?
  • What do I learn in this text about honey/bees? Torah/Jews?
  • What lessons can we garner from these texts in conversation with each other and ourselves?
A Honeyed Gift From God
(לא) וַיִּקְרְא֧וּ בֵֽית־יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל אֶת־שְׁמ֖וֹ מָ֑ן וְה֗וּא כְּזֶ֤רַע גַּד֙ לָבָ֔ן וְטַעְמ֖וֹ כְּצַפִּיחִ֥ת בִּדְבָֽשׁ׃
(31) The house of Israel named it manna; it was like coriander seed, white, and it tasted like wafers in honey.
A Land of Honey
(כ) כִּֽי־אֲבִיאֶ֜נּוּ אֶֽל־הָאֲדָמָ֣ה ׀ אֲשֶׁר־נִשְׁבַּ֣עְתִּי לַאֲבֹתָ֗יו זָבַ֤ת חָלָב֙ וּדְבַ֔שׁ וְאָכַ֥ל וְשָׂבַ֖ע וְדָשֵׁ֑ן וּפָנָ֞ה אֶל־אֱלֹהִ֤ים אֲחֵרִים֙ וַעֲבָד֔וּם וְנִ֣אֲצ֔וּנִי וְהֵפֵ֖ר אֶת־בְּרִיתִֽי׃

(20) When I bring them into the land flowing with milk and honey that I promised on oath to their ancestors, and they eat their fill and grow fat and turn to other gods and serve them, spurning Me and breaking My covenant,

Words or Bees

(ו) דָּבָר אַחֵר, אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים, אָמַר רַבִּי שְׁמוּאֵל בַּר נַחְמָן, אָמַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא כִּדְּבוֹרִים הָיוּ בָּנַי מִתְנַהֲגִים בָּעוֹלָם עַל יְדֵי צַדִּיקִים וְעַל יְדֵי נְבִיאִים. דָּבָר אַחֵר, אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים, מָה הַדְּבוֹרָה הַזּוֹ דִּבְשָׁהּ מָתוֹק וְעֻקְּצָהּ מָר, כָּךְ הֵן דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָה, כָּל מִי שֶׁעוֹבֵר עֲלֵיהֶן נוֹטֵל אִפּוֹפָּסִין, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ויקרא כ, י): מוֹת יוּמַת הַנֹּאֵף וְהַנֹּאָפֶת, (שמות לא, יד): מְחַלְלֶיהָ מוֹת יוּמָת. וְכָל מִי שֶׁמְקַיֵּם אוֹתָהּ זוֹכֶה לְחַיִּים, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שמות כ, יב): לְמַעַן יַאֲרִכוּן יָמֶיךָ. דָּבָר אַחֵר, אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים, מָה הַדְּבוֹרָה הַזּוֹ דֻּבְשָׁהּ לְבַעְלָהּ וְעֻקְּצָהּ לַאֲחֵרִים, כָּךְ הֵן דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָה, סַם חַיִּים לְיִשְׂרָאֵל, וְסַם הַמָּוֶת לְעוֹבְדֵי כּוֹכָבִים. אָמַר רַבִּי יְהוּדָה בְּרַבִּי סִימוֹן בְּשֵׁם רַבִּי לֵוִי, מָה הַדְּבוֹרָה הַזֹּאת כָּל מַה שֶּׁהִיא מְסַגֶּלֶת, מְסַגֶּלֶת לִבְעָלֶיהָ, כָּךְ כָּל מַה שֶּׁיִשְׂרָאֵל מְסַגְּלִין מִצְווֹת וּמַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים, הֵם מְסַגְּלִים לַאֲבִיהֶם שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם.

Another thing, "These are the Devarim (words)," Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachman: The Holy Blessed One said my children are like bees (devorim) as they conduct themselves after tzaddikim (the righteous) and after the prophets. (Just as bees follow after their queen and build one generation upon the next.)

Another thing, "These are the Devarim," just as a bee's honey is sweet and its sting is bitter, so too are the words of Torah. Every one who strays against them receives their verdict, as it says, "The adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death." (Lev. 20:10) ... and everyone who upholds them merits life, as it says, "That they may lengthen your days." (Ex. 20:12)

Another thing, "These are the Devarim," just as the bee has honey for her master and a sting for others, so too the words of Torah. They are a medicine of life to Israel, and a medicine of death for those that worship idols.

Rabbi Yehudah in the name of Rabbi Simon in the name of Rabbi Levi said: Just as the bee, everything it treasures it treasures for its master, so to all that Israel treasures from the mitzvot and good deeds, all of this is held as treasure by us for our God in heaven.

Two ways to learn

Yalkut Divrei Asaf

Rabbi Tzvi Farber makes an interesting observation: Bees produce honey by flying many miles to collect nectar from flowers, while milk comes straight from the cow. Similarly, one learns Torah in two ways:

  • One should gather insights from others, learning from diverse teachers;
  • One can also be creative and original, developing one's own Torah insights.

A Word of Caution
(טז) דְּבַ֣שׁ מָ֭צָאתָ אֱכֹ֣ל דַּיֶּ֑ךָּ פֶּן־תִּ֝שְׂבָּעֶ֗נּוּ וַהֲקֵֽאתֽוֹ׃
(16) If you find honey, eat only what you need, Lest, surfeiting yourself, you throw it up.
There IS Something Better Than Honey

הַֽנֶּחֱמָדִ֗ים מִ֭זָּהָב וּמִפַּ֣ז רָ֑ב וּמְתוּקִ֥ים מִ֝דְּבַ֗שׁ

[The Torah is] more desirable than gold, than much fine gold; sweeter than honey

לקוטי הלכות-זבחים- ישראל מאיר כהן

מה שכתוב ״ומתוקים מדבש״, כי ידוע שיש בטבע כח המתיקות גדול...

עד שאם יפול בה איזה דבר לחם או בשר...במשך הזמן יתהפך הלחם והבשר לדבש...

וזהו שאמר הכתוב שכח מתיקות התורה הוא גדול הרבה יותר מדבש...

אפילו אם טבע נפשו היה מתחילה רע מאד, כח התורה מטהרתו ומקדישו ונהפך להיות איש אחר ממש.

Likutei Halachot - Zevachim, by Rabbi Yisrael Meir Cohen

And why does the text say "sweeter than honey?" Because it is known that in nature there exists a power to honey, that if an item like bread or wine falls into it, eventually they will transform into honey.

And that is why the Torah describes the power of Torah as stronger than that of honey...

Even if the person's nature was inherently evil, Torah turns them to be an entirely different person.

Better... Or Maybe Just The Same

(ג) זֶהוּ שֶׁאָמַר הַכָּתוּב (שיר השירים א, ג): לְרֵיחַ שְׁמָנֶיךָ טוֹבִים, רַבָּנָן אָמְרֵי בַּחֲמִשָּׁה דְבָרִים נִמְשְׁלָה הַתּוֹרָה, בְּמַיִם, וּבְיַיִן, וּבִדְּבַשׁ, וּבְחָלָב, וּבְשָׁמֶן...בִּדְבַשׁ וּבְחָלָב מִנַּיִן (שיר השירים ד, יא): דְּבַשׁ וְחָלָב תַּחַת לְשׁוֹנֵךְ...

Concerning that which the verse says, "Your ointments have a good fragrance", the Rabbis said that the Torah is compared with five things: Water, wine, honey, milk and oil...Where do we see it compared to honey and milk? "Honey and milk under your tongue" [i.e. this alludes to Torah].