Is the Sweetness Worth the Sting?

April 12, 2024

This morning, as I was driving my son to school, one of my favorite Israeli classic songs, Noami Shemer’s Al Kol Eleh, came on the radio, and without missing a beat my seven-year-old started to sing along! Why was this so special? I don’t recall ever having played that song for him before. I actually had no idea he even knew it. Hearing his sweet little voice sing one of the songs that, without fail, moves my heart, was a special parenting win. I’m sure if I had heard him singing Yesterday by the Beatles or humming the tune to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, I would also have been amazed. But Shemer’s song has a unique and prophetic meaning. Even though it was written over 40 years ago, it’s incredibly relevant today.

Let Me Explain.

One of the hardest things to master as a human being with deep feelings (which I am, and I hope you are too!)—is navigating having multiple feelings at the same time. Or, more specifically, having two seemingly conflicting feelings. For example, you love your partner but sometimes need alone time. You have a lot of self-confidence but are afraid of failure. You love that your daughter is belting out “Happy Birthday” on a random Tuesday afternoon, but you also desperately want some quiet thinking time. You are grieving but have moments of joy. According to a study published by the University of Waterloo, “Experiencing mixed emotions shows emotional complexity, not indecision.” This means that it’s natural to feel multiple things at once. You’re well-adjusted and emotionally deep, this quote is saying. Don’t worry (or do worry, but know that that’s okay too!). This jumble of emotions takes center stage in Shemer’s Al Kol Eleh, where the songsmith poetically weaves together these conflicting emotions we feel. With a prayer for Israel’s well-being – a gentle reminder that the sweetness of life’s blessings, and the bitterness of its challenges are all intertwined and connected. 

I’m going to encourage you to read the lyrics and English and listen to her song – after you finish this article, of course. But by way of example, the opening to her song is:

“Every bee that brings the honey

It needs a sting to be complete

And we all must learn to taste the bitter with the sweet.”

As you might expect, Shemer didn’t pull this metaphor out of thin air. It’s inspired  by a famous Biblical commentary on the story of Baalam from Numbers.

Baalam, the prophet hired by Baalak, is sent to curse the Jewish people. But God tells Baalam to abandon his course and turn around, for the Jewish people are already blessed and no curse will work on them. The Biblical commentators use the metaphor of a bee or hornet to provide context for this verse: You might say about a  bee, I really want the honey from the bee, but it’s not worth it for me, because I want to avoid getting stung (which is why I like to buy my honey from a store). I don’t want the sweetness if I have to endure the pain. In the case of Baalam: you can’t have a blessing and a curse at the same time – you can’t have a good and a bad thing at the same time. They Jewish people are already blessed. Don’t try to curse them, Baalam!

Looking at Naomi Shemer’s line from her song, though, she flips the metaphor on its head!  Sometimes, to get the sweetness of the honey,  you might need to accept the sting. In fact, that sting can be a really important part of life – a person’s power of resilience and enduring spirit comes from being able to hold space for two feelings at once, even if some of those feelings are quite tricky. 

There’s a reason this song has become a classic in Israel on par with apple pie in America. It’s because it captures a deep part of the Israeli spirit. To illustrate, consider Psalm 126: 

This psalm is especially meaningful when thinking about modern day Israel, for the psalm is describes the Lord joyfully returning His people to Zion! But it’s not just about the joy, for the psalm also describes what life will be like before this return. There will be tears and weeping. It will be difficult to settle in the land of Israel. But it will all be worth it – first the sting, but then the honey!

The psalm is saying that sometimes, the hardship, the difficulty, and the tears will bring the most fruitful returns. You cannot have the benefits of growth without the difficulty of growing. A loving relationship with a child, a spouse, or a friend is not without difficult conversations and even tension. But there’s something about those complex and deep relationships that enhance our overall connection.

Since October 7th, we have shed many, many tears—too many to count. I wish I could magically say that from now on, there will be no more bee stings, and no more weeping, and that we will start to hear the songs of joy. Please, God, that should be true!

Al Kol Eleh ends with this quote:

For the sake of all these things, Lord,

Let your mercy be complete

Bless the sting and bless the honey

Bless the bitter and the sweet.

My sweet son, singing along with his boyish innocence and probably a bit of confusion as to why his mom is sobbing and sniffling along in rhythm, should grow to have a deep appreciation for the honey in his life that somehow coexisted with the constant sting of the bee. 

We should all be able to allow space for our many emotions, knowing that ultimately, with the resilience that this space creates, we will prevail and feel the sweet joys of the Lord. 


Israeli soldiers are risking their lives to protect us all from Islamic terrorism. But they need our help. Sign up for Israel365 Action to receive updates on how YOU can help fight Hamas and its supporters in the United States and around the world.

FOR ALL THESE THINGS
https://www.hebrewsongs.com/song-alkoleleh-bikel.htm 
Al hadvash ve’al ha’okets
Al hamar vehamatok
Al biteynu hatinoket shmor eyli hatov.

Al ha’esh hamevo’eret
Al hamayim hazakim
Al Ha’ish hashav habayta
min hamerkhakimChorus:
Al kol eleh, al kol eleh,
Shmor nah li eyli hatov
Al hadvash ve’al ha’okets
Al hamar vehamatok.

Al na ta’akor natu’a
Al tishkakh et hatikvah
Hashiveyni va’ashuva
El ha’arets hatovah.
Shmor Eli al ze habayit
Al hagan, al hakhoma
Miyagon, mipakhad peta
Umimilkhama.

Shmor al hame’at sheyesh li
Al ha’or ve’al hataf
Al hapri shelo hivshil od
Veshene’esaf.Chorus:Merashresh ilan baru’akh
Merakhok nosher kokhav
Mish’alot libi bakhoshekh
nirshamot achshav.

Ana shmor li al kol eyle
Ve’al ahuvey nafshi
Al hasheket al habékhi
ve’al ze hashir.

Chorus:
Al kol eleh, al kol eleh,
Shmor nah li eyli hatov
Al hadvash ve’al ha’okets
Al hamar vehamatok.







Every bee that brings the honey
Needs a sting to be complete
And we all must learn to taste the bitter with the sweet.

Keep, oh Lord, the fire burning
Through the night and through the day
For the man who is returning
from so far away.Chorus:
Don’t uproot what has been planted
So our bounty may increase
Let our dearest wish be granted:
Bring us peace, oh bring us peace.

For the sake of all these things, Lord,
Let your mercy be complete
Bless the sting and bless the honey
Bless the bitter and the sweet.


Save the houses that we live in
The small fences and the wall
From the sudden war-like thunder
May you save them all.

Guard what little I’ve been given
Guard the hill my child might climb
Let the fruit that’s yet to ripen
Not be plucked before its time.


Chorus:

As the wind makes rustling night sounds
And a star falls in its arc
All my dreams and my desires
Form crystal shapes out of the dark.

Guard for me, oh Lord, these treasures
All my friends keep safe and strong,
Guard the stillness, guard the weeping,
And above all, guard this song.Chorus:
For the sake of all these things, Lord,
Let your mercy be complete
Bless the sting and bless the honey
Bless the bitter and the sweet.Bless the sting and bless the honey
Bless the bitter and the sweet.
Sara Lamm

Sara Lamm is a content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. Originally from Virginia, she moved to Israel with her husband and children in 2021. Sara has a Masters Degree in Education from Bankstreet college and taught preschool for almost a decade before making Aliyah to Israel. Sara is passionate about connecting Bible study with “real life’ and is currently working on a children’s Bible series.

Sara Lamm

Sara Lamm is a content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. Originally from Virginia, she moved to Israel with her husband and children in 2021. Sara has a Masters Degree in Education from Bankstreet college and taught preschool for almost a decade before making Aliyah to Israel. Sara is passionate about connecting Bible study with “real life’ and is currently working on a children’s Bible series.

Subscribe

Sign up to receive daily inspiration to your email

Recent Posts
God’s Conscious Concern for the Land
Bread or Dreams?
The Thirty-Five Davids and Two Thousand Goliaths

Related Articles

By: Rabbi Elie Mischel

Subscribe

Sign up to receive daily inspiration to your email