I got my first bee rescue call last week from a Rabbi Sulami in Los Angeles. I went to his home erev shabbos to investigate the situation–and indeed there is a colony of honeybees living in his attic which we’re planning to trap out.
But the most interesting aspect of the interaction was that Rabbi Sulami mentioned that the Schneorson family of Kfar Chabad are also Chassidic beekeepers. This piqued my interest so I did some research and found this awesome article from Beis Moshiach magazine written by Yitzchok Wagshul (link here (opens as PDF, page 13)):
No one is better qualified to tell us [that honey symbolizes our wish for a good and sweet new
year] than the Schneorson family of Kfar Chabad. Because of its health benefits, the family used honey extensively in place of sugar, and, with 23 children (kein ayin hara)—the family is renowned for its size—this quickly became an expensive proposition. Around 28 years ago, Rabbi Moshe Zalman Schneorson z”l, a staunch Lubavitcher chassid and relative of the Rebbe, bought bees and began producing his own honey to save money. He gradually expanded the operation until today, the family business, Schneorson Honey, is Israel’s largest producer of organic, natural honey. The family runs a visitors’ center called Me’achorei Hadvash—“Behind the Honey”—with a fun program that attracts several busloads per day of schoolchildren and tour groups, who come from all over the country to visit the educational exhibits and learn how honey is produced. Along the way, the family has discovered many ways to teach about Yiddishkait and Moshiach.
Shoshi Rivkin, Reb Moshe Zalman z”l’s daughter, runs Me’achorei Hadvash. She feels the very fact that such an interesting and impressive operation—there is something inherently appealing and family-friendly about watching bees make honey—is located in a chareidi setting like Kfar Chabad and run by a chassidic family makes a positive impression on the exhibit’s many secular visitors. Beyond that, though, there is much about the lives and behavior of bees that suggests lessons for life in general, especially life as chassidim.
Here are some facts that help us to see these lessons, as well as to appreciate that, as the pasuk says (T’hillim 104:24), “How numerous are Your creations, O Hashem! You have made them all with wisdom”:
A typical beehive contains 30,000-50,000, sometimes up to 80,000, bees, all working together in perfect harmony. Every bee knows its function, and performs its task—cleaning honeycomb cells, feeding larvae, making wax, gathering food—on a fixed schedule. A single worker bee lives no more than around six weeks, producing only about a teaspoon of honey in its brief life; on any given food-gathering flight, a bee brings back to the hive less than 1/10 gram of nectar.
But because of the unity and industriousness of the whole hive, the colony as a group functions with great efficiency and produces much honey. This in itself is a lesson in life: bees have no ego, and do not allow personal agendas to interfere with their goal. Each of us, too, has his or her own mission in life and in avoda, as well as our collective goal of accomplishing Hashem’s will and bringing Moshiach. If we could only work together with the same singleminded devotion and unity as bees, how much better could we accomplish our purpose?
Another noteworthy fact: It takes over 12,000 foraging flights by bees to produce enough honey for a one-kilogram jar (about 2.2 lbs.). Since an individual bee lives only about six weeks in the summer, and the seasonal output for an entire hive can reach up to about 40 kilograms (about 88 lbs.), it turns out that most of a bee’s work is actually done for the benefit of the next generation.
All the bees in a hive are ruled by one “royal” bee: the queen. She is the most important bee in the hive, because her function is to lay eggs and perpetuate the life of the entire colony. In fact, every single one of the 80,000 other bees is her child; they are literally all siblings! Without a queen, the hive would die out, and the bees are all utterly devoted to her. Now, here is a fascinating fact about this royal bee: she is essentially no different from any other bee in the hive, and is selected by the ordinary bees to become their queen. Bees whose function it is to nurse the larvae feed one larva extra amounts of a special substance called “royal jelly,” and this causes the selected larva to develop into a queen. Thus, the queen is “anointed” by the colony, and the colony derives its very life from the queen. What a parallel to the concept of a Rebbe, to the concept of Melech HaMoshiach! In fact, perhaps this is another reason why we eat honey on Rosh HaShana, the holiday whose theme is the acceptance of Hashem’s malchus over us all.
Yedidia Flint, Reb Moshe Zalman z”l’s oldest daughter, lives in Crown Heights, where she is extremely active in mivtzaim and educating people about Moshiach. A true soldier, Mrs. Flint is one of those energetic people who always carries a supply of Moshiach and Sheva Mitzvos cards, never missing an opportunity to hand them out and discuss them. She distributes Schneorson honey, which comes in various varieties and in beautiful jars and gift packages, to local purchasers, and, since they are on hand, gives out small containers in her pre-Rosh HaShana mivtzaim. “It’s amazing how a tiny bit of honey—I usually give out the smallest size, which only contains about 1/3 oz.—nevertheless opens people up so much,” she says. “Everybody takes it with a broad smile, and they are then willing to talk and accept other items as well.”
Mrs. Flint says she has met many people over the years who have related interesting stories after she gave them honey and wished them a sweet new year. Recently, for example, she was doing mivtzaim on the boardwalk near Coney Island. A Russian gentleman shared his story. He himself did not appear particularly frum, but he told Mrs. Flint that, before the Soviets tried to wipe out Judaism (r”l), his grandparents and other relatives had had a connection with Lubavitch. Some thirty years ago, he recalled, when Rabbi Berel Lazar—the Rebbe’s shliach and chief rabbi of Russia and the C.I.S.—first came to Russia from Italy, the latter did not speak Russian. The man befriended him and helped him learn the language; he remained close with the rabbi and gave him a good deal of assistance for some time thereafter. Eventually, this individual left Russia and came to New York. Before his departure, Rabbi Lazar gave him a letter—it seemed to Mrs. Flint that it was in the nature of a letter of introduction, written in Yiddish— to show to the Rebbe. The man valued that letter (and, no doubt, his meeting with the Rebbe) so much that he carried it with him ever since, and actually showed it to Mrs. Flint on the boardwalk. When the Rebbe read the letter, he was so pleased that he told the man, “Ask me whatever you want and I’ll do it for you.” May we all receive that bracha, especially for that which we all want more than anything else— Moshiach now!—and may we all be inscribed and sealed for a good and sweet year.