This past Friday night, as we sat down to our Rosh Hashana meal, I was struck with a question that never crossed my mind before. We had said Hamotzi already, and had begun the seder of simanim, and we of course started first with the most obvious siman – dipping our apples in honey. We all know that this is to symbolize that we wish Hashem will grant us a sweet new year. The question is, however, why apples? There are plenty of other sweet fruits, so why did the custom develop to use the apple?
As I pondered this, the first thought that came to mind was that since Rosh Hashana is the day that Adam Harishon ate from the forbidden tree, perhaps we eat the apple to remember that eating. This notion, of course, was quickly discarded, as it is quite clear that the forbidden fruit was anything but an apple. In any event, it would be strange to commemorate the sin by imitating the evil deed!
I looked in the Artscroll Rosh Hashana machzor, and it provided an explanation that actually made the whole picture much more puzzling. It brought down that when Yakov avinu came in to Yitzchak to steal Esav’s brachos, his father remarked that he smelled like the ‘smell of the field.’ Our sages interpret this to mean that he smelled like an apple orchard. For this reason, we specifically use an apple to dip in honey on Rosh Hashana night to symbolize our desire for a sweet new year.
The question is, What does Yakov getting the brachos have to do with Rosh Hashana?
This question occupied my thoughts on the twenty-or-so minute walk to shul Rosh Hashana morning. My mind was whirring and the cogs were turning, and some interesting connections made for some good food for thought.
I realized that the moment that Yakov was stealing the brachos from Esav was an extremely pivotal point in the story of Moshiach ben Yosef. Esav was the one who should have taken on the mantle of Moshiach ben Yosef’s job, which was the tikkun hakilkul – the rectification of the damage caused by the sin of Adam Harishon. This was why Esav had more of a leaning toward being involved in the outside world. This was the world he would need to infuse with spirituality and remove the darkness from therein. The brachos that Esav would have received would have aided him in fulfilling this role, which actually was a precursor to the role of Yakov as Moshiach ben Dovid. This was also why Esav was born first, because just as Moshiach ben Yosef must complete his job prior to Moshiach ben Dovid’s arrival, so Esav should have done his job first in order to set the stage for Yakov’s role. This would have been the explanation of the prophecy told to Rivka ‘ורב יעבוד צעיר’ – the older will serve the younger.
Instead, however, Esav failed at his task and was too involved in the very physicality he was meant to purify. Thus, he forfeited the role of Moshiach ben Yosef, which Yakov purchased from him for a bowl of lentils. When it came time to receive the blessings that were inherent to Moshiach ben Yosef’s job, it was absolutely imperative that Yakov get these blessings, as he had now taken on the dual role of Moshiach ben Yosef and Moshiach ben Dovid at the same time. (This role would later be split between his children Yehuda and Yosef.) Thus Yakov had to create the subterfuge of professing to be Esav, but the truth was that he was Esav in the sense that he had taken over Esav’s role as Moshiach ben Yosef.
At this moment, Yakov walks in to Yitzchak to receive the blessings, and he is wearing Esav’s special garment. This garment was no ordinary garment – it had been inherited from Nimrod, who in turn had gotten it from none other than Adam Harishon himself. It was no coincidence that Esav had Adam’s clothes – Esav’s job was to rectify the sin of Adam that had created the necessity for these clothes! Now Yakov had replaced Esav in that role, and therefore it would be Yakov who would put on the clothes of Adam Harishon. It was these clothes that brought in with Yakov the smell of the field of apples that Yitzchak smelled.
When we take a deeper look at what is going on throughout Rosh Hashana, we realize that hiding beneath the surface is a day that is very much connected to the concept of Moshiach ben Yosef. The entire davening centers around the Messianic age, and the day itself commemorates the birth of Adam harishon. But the day of his birth was also the day he sinned and was ejected from Gan Eden. Rosh Hashana was the very day that Adam harishon introduced the kilkul into the world that Moshiach ben Yosef would be enjoined to extricate. Thus, it is no coincidence that our davening centers around that time when indeed the whole world will be purified from Adam’s sin.
If one thinks deeper into the matter, Rosh Hashana actually had the potential to be the day that would have brought the full rectification. If Adam had not eaten until sundown, Shabbos would have ushered in the dawn of Olam Haba – the complete rectification of mankind. Thus, just as we mentioned in regards to the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha b’Av, the day of downfall actually still contains the seed for the future rectification as well. This potential was not lost.
With this in mind, the theme of Moshiach ben Yosef as the one who would rectify Adam’s sin is essentially the theme of Rosh Hashana itself. It is therefore no wonder that we take the apple to dip in honey. This apple reminds us of the moment in history when Yakov took over the job of Moshiach ben Yosef. By eating the sweet apple, it reminds us that Rosh Hashana is the day that holds the potential for the ultimate rectification of Adam’s sin, and when Moshiach ben Yosef’s job is completed, we certainly will have a sweet new year.
This also sheds light on an opinion in the Gemara which always seemed strange to me. The Gemara in Rosh Hashana (10B-11A) discusses when our future redemption will take place. According to one opinion, it will be in Nissan, just as the Geulah from Mitzrayim was in Nissan. According to another opinion, it will take place in Tishrei. To me, the first opinion always rang true, as Nissan is a time for redemption. (I’m also biased because my birthday is in Nissan.) Now, however, the Tishrei option actually seems to make more sense to me, as this was the month of the sin of Adam harishon, and the potential for its rectification.