Jewish tradition attributes healing qualities to the apple. Although today the apple is low in nutritional value, it is rich in antioxidants helpful in preventing heart disease and cancer. In the End of Days, the apple - along with all other trees - will be restored to the complete strength it enjoyed in the Garden of Eden. See the Appendix at the end of this article for a detailed assessment.
Abraham Ibn Ezra interprets the first two words of Song of Songs 2:5 as meaning "Invigorate me with apples." Rashi comments on this verse that our Sages advised bringing apples to the sick to heal them. Today the apple still symbolizes good health, as reflected in the popular folk saying, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away."
The Zohar (Acharei Mot) says that the apple has healing qualities: Just as the apple heals all, so the Holy One, blessed be He, heals all.
The Zohar continues: Just as the apple has various colors (white, red, green), so the Holy One, blessed be He, has various supernal colors (white, red, green, corresponding to the attributes of chesed [loving-kindness], gevura [might], and tiferet [beauty]), (Zohar, Acharei Mot; Ziv HaZohar, VaEtchanan).
The symbol of the green apple reveals some of the hidden meaning behind this teaching of the Zohar. Tiferet, the kabbalistic attribute of harmony and beauty, is associated with green, the color of healing. The word tav-pei-alef-reish-tav (tiferet) derives from the root pei-alef-reish (pe'er), as reflected in reish-pei-vav-alef-hei (refu'a), healing.
The patriarch Jacob is associated with tiferet and the balance and harmony between kindness and severity, and he has a special connection with health. Talmud Ta'anit 5b says, "Our father Jacob did not die."
Moreover, the Midrash associates Jacob with apples because his father Isaac sensed a fragrance of apples when the disguised Jacob came for his father's blessing. (See Rashi on Gen. 27:24. Rebecca gave Jacob Adam's garments from the Garden of Eden, which had been passed down to Esau via Nimrod. When Esau wore them, the fragrance was hidden; but when Jacob wore them, the fragrance overwhelmed Isaac.)
The Ben Ish Chai writes that the apple tree is the only fruit tree that has its spiritual source in the attribute of tiferet. This is yet another indication of the special connection of the apple with healing (Ben Ish Chai, Halakhot, Nitsavim).
Tiferet and healing are attributes which, for the Jew, operate on a supernatural level. Our request for health is the eighth blessing in the weekday Shemoneh Esrei prayer:
Heal us, O L-rd, and we shall be healed; help us and we shall be saved; for You are our praise. Grant complete cure and healing to all our wounds; for You, A-lmighty King, are a faithful and merciful healer. Blessed are You, L-rd, Who heals the sick of His people Israel.
As G‑d created the universe in seven days, the number eight connotes "above nature," beyond the usual natural order. Brit mila (circumcision) is generally performed on the eighth day after the birth of a Jewish male child. The brit itself is a sign that the Jew is connected to G‑d on a supra-natural level. Raphael, the angel of tiferet, came disguised as a guest to heal Abraham on the third day after his circumcision (Rashi on Gen. 18:2). The Zohar tells us that everything in Creation is inscribed with this special Name of G‑d
The ineffable four-letter Name of G‑d, which we respectfully refer to as yud-kay-vav-kay, symbolizes G‑d's transcendence and control of nature. This Name is associated with the attribute of tiferet (see Be'er Mayim Chayim on parashat VaEtchanan). The tetragrammaton is the central Name of G‑d, and all other Divine Names are secondary to it (Pri Tsaddik, Volume 5, 134). By the strength of this Name the nature of the universe can be broken (Be'er Mayim Chayyim, parashat VaEtchanan).
The Zohar tells us that everything in Creation is inscribed with this special Name of G‑d. It is His trademark on everything, showing Who created it (Zohar, Ra'aya Mehemna, VaEtchanan). It is like the hidden signature of an artist on his paintings.
With this in mind, if we cut an apple open along its horizontal axis, we can find markings that suggest G‑d's inscription of His holy Four-Letter Name on the apple itself. (I heard this interpretation of the apple from Rabbi Abraham Brandwein of the Old City of Jerusalem, in the name of Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh.) The letter yud (numeric value = 10) is indicated by the ten dots in the pulp surrounding the seeds. The letter hei is indicated by the five seed spaces in the core of the apple. The shape of the letter vav is drawn by the stem. The second hei is indicated by the five seeds.
On Sabbath eves, some kabbalistic rabbis give apples to their students. If we eat an apple with the proper intention, and if we serve G‑d with the strength that we gain from eating this apple, we thereby join ourselves to G‑d in holiness.
Upon leaving Egypt, the Jewish people were informed that G‑d and His Torah are their source of healing:
If you obey G‑d your L-rd and do what is right in His eyes, carefully heeding all His Commandments and keeping all His decrees, then I will not strike you with any of the sicknesses that I brought on Egypt. I am G‑d Who heals you (Ex. 15:26). May we connect ourselves, like apples, to the tree of G‑d and unite with His attribute of tiferet
Spiritual health is the source of our physical health. Torah is the remedy. Spiritual perfection - full Torah observance - is the gateway to physical health. May we connect ourselves, like apples, to the tree of G‑d and unite with His attribute of tiferet. When we fully cleave to G‑d and Torah, the Tree of Life, we shall be healed.
Despite its dismal nutritional appearance, the apple contains various healing agents which are not apparent under the standard procedures of assessing nutritional composition. These healing agents relate to both of today's greatest health problems: heart disease and cancer. The apple contains agents that can lower blood cholesterol levels, a major risk factor in heart disease, as well as cancer-preventing agents.
Antioxidants - phytochemicals present in apples in very small amounts - are powerful cancer and heart-disease preventers. Flavonoids are polyphenic antioxidants that occur naturally in vegetables and fruits, and apples are a major source of flavonoids. Flavonoids help to lower blood cholesterol levels and prevent blood clotting, thus reducing the likelihood of a fatal heart attack. Flavonoid intake has been shown to have an inverse correlation with mortality from coronary heart disease (Lancet, Volume 342 [October 23, 1993], pages 1007-1011).
Apples also contain nutritional fiber, which has a protective influence on our health. Nutritionists generally speak of two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibers are non-nutrient components that are soluble in water; insoluble fibers are not water soluble. The apple contains both types of fiber, with all of their disease-preventing benefits. The soluble fibers have the potential to lower serum lipid (fat, i.e., cholesterol, triglyceride) levels. Pectin, a major soluble fiber, is present in significant amounts in apples. Apples are the most common food source for cholesterol-lowering pectin. The apple peel, which mainly consists of insoluble or indigestible fiber, has long been noted for its anti-constipation and anti-cancer potential.
Condensed from the original article and reprinted with kind permission from B’Or HaTorah vol. X (1997), pp.69-73.