Shanah Tovah: Bee Keeping at Camp
Chalutzim [campers] at Ramah in the Rockies now understand how the expression “busy as a bee” came into being. Chalutzim learned all about bees through Rinat Levinson, a tzevet [staff member] from Israel, who studied biodynamic beekeeping. Rinat became interested in this field only a year ago and has become so passionate that she found a Denver beekeeper, Oliver Stanton, who donated a hive full of bees so she could teach our chalutzim.
Biodynamic bee keeping is an approach that respects the integrity of the colony and was founded over 150 years ago. Its aim is to minimize stress factors and allow bees to develop in accordance with their true nature. There are many protocols one must follow so as not to exploit the bees for their honey and ROA followed them while mainting the hive. Examples include: bees are allowed to build natural comb, swarming is acknowledged as the only way to rejuvenate and reproduce a colony, the queen is allowed to move freely throughout the hive and sufficient honey is retained in the hive to provide for the winter.
Rinat’s goal was to make us more aware of the bee’s life cycle and its impact on the environment. Bees are useful in helping thousands of plants to exist and multiply, since they carry pollen from one flower to another, enabling them to form seeds and reproduce themselves. Campers learned about community from studying the bees as each bee and bee activity is integral to the whole. No single part, not even the queen, can be seen as isolated from the whole. Isn’t this what community is all about?
She taught how to respect and take care of the hive and the importance of its survival. Unfortunately, the honeybee is becoming an endangered species, with more than a 50% US decline in managed honeybee colonies due to parasites and disease, climate change and air pollution. The most serious of all is the impact of pesticides– an environmental hazard for any being. Campers discussed what they could do about this phenomenon.
Honeybees are the only insects that provide an important food for man. Interesting note is that the bee is a non-kosher insect, so why is its honey kosher?
So much Jewish learning can be taught through studying the bees. “Devorah” is Hebrew for “bee.” It’s also the name of two great women mentioned in the Torah. What is so special about a bee that these great women should be named after it? There are several citings in the Midrash where the Jewish people and the Torah are compared to bees. For example, just as bees swarm behind a leader, so too are the Jews led by the sages and prophets who teach and guide them. Just as the nature of a bee is to collect pollen and nectar for others, so do the Jews toil accumulating Torah and mitzvahs, not for our own benefit, but for a higher purpose.
Honey is first mentioned in the Bible as one of the gifts sent by Jacob with his sons when they went down to Egypt to seek food during the famine. Moses, at his first encounter with God at the burning bush, hears God’s pledge for the first time: “I shall rescue them from the hand of Egypt and bring them up to a land flowing with milk and honey”(Exodus 3:8). Throughout the Bible, Israel is repeatedly referred to as the land of “milk and honey.” Manna, the most perfect food ever created, which sustained the Israelites for 40 years of wandering in the desert, is described as tasting “like a cake fried in honey” (Exodus 16:31)
“The Torah is sweeter than honey to my mouth,” sang King David. So just like a honeybee spreads the news of the sweet nectar it found to the rest of the colony, so too should we spread the word of Torah. A bee knows that spreading her knowledge is important for her entire colony to prosper. By spreading the sweetness of Torah and mitzvahs to others, you can enhance the capability of the Jewish people to fulfill its purpose, and to be a “light unto the nations.”
We all know that on Rosh Hashanah, honey is used in a symbolic way. We ask for a Shanah Tovah – “May we have a good and sweet year” as we dip apples into honey. It is not only for a good and sweet year in material blessings that we have in mind, but also a good and sweet year in our spiritual life of Torah and mitzvahs, which are “sweeter than hon
ey and the honeycomb” (Psalms). As we eat honey during these High Holidays, we hope campers will remember the labor of love that went into making that honey. There were a lot of honeybees, working very hard, as each honeybee will only produce about one twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime. We are hopeful that our Ramah bees will provide a taste of honey for the upcoming New Year.