Stings and Honey

I love the fact that the first verses of Isaiah accompany the reading each year of the first portion of Deuteronomy.

Here are two fun facts: 1) the Hebrew word for this last book of the Torah and its first portion is d’varim, and 2) the Hebrew word for bees is d’vorim.

Bees! What might bees have to do with the words of Moses and Isaiah?

First, the words of both leaders sting the people. Moses tries in his last oration to make sure the people remember their straying in the wilderness and its costs, and to warn against it in the future. Isaiah, upon freshly seeing waywardness, pricks thus: “Woe, they are a sinful nation…(they) have forsaken God…(their) country is desolate; (their) cities are burned with fire….”

Second, the honey bee also gives us sweet nourishment. Moses comforts the people by teaching that God is with us, watches us, fights for us, and blesses us. Is there honey any sweeter than those words? Isaiah says even in the midst of sin there’s hope for return: “If you are willing and obey, you will eat the goodness of the land.”

Third, whatever honey we store away, as with words we learn and follow, it’s sweetness we keep and store away in this life and for God. Isaiah tells us to “learn to do good, seek justice, vindicate the victim, render justice to the orphan, take up the grievance of the widow.” To what sweet end? “Zion will be redeemed through justice, and those who return to her through righteousness.”

Like the honey bee, Moses dies soon after giving us both the honey and the sting. According to the Talmud, Isaiah suffered martyrdom.

But their words – both their stings and their honey – nourish us today and every day forever.


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