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Sunday, September 25

The Weekly Shtikle - Rosh HaShanah

It is customary to include a number of foods as good omens on the Rosh HaShanah night meal. While there is an extensive list of all sorts of unique foods and their significance as omens, some only include a choice few. The most popular is probably the apple in the honey. The fish head may very well be a close second (although perhaps the word common is more appropriate than "popular.") The eating of the fish head is preceded by a prayer, shenihyeh lerosh velo lezanav, that we should be a head and not a tail. I have long understood this to be a simple metaphor. We want to be a head, which symbolizes being on top, rather than a tail, which symbolizes being on the bottom of things. However, perhaps there is deeper meaning to this prayer.


The wording for this prayer surely has its source in parshas Ki Savo, which we recently read. There, in the blessings (28:13), we are assured that when we do HaShem's will, He will place us lerosh velo lezanav, and we will be lemalah, on top, and not lematah, below. The apparent repetition, unless simply poetic, implies that rosh and zanav must mean something other than top and bottom. But Onkelos makes it even more clear. His translation of rosh and zanav is not a head and a tail. He translates that HaShem will makes us strong and not weak.


The head contains the skull which protects the most important and fragile part of the body - the brain. The head is an anatomical fortress and is thus the metaphor for strength. The tail, conversely, is possibly the weakest part of an animal's body. Although it does contain bones in most cases, it is certainly the most vulnerable body part. It is therefore the metaphor for weakness.


The problem with this understanding is that the fish, which we use to represent this imagery, doesn't actually have a real skull. Instead, it has many small bones. This allows the fish to be more buoyant in water. Perhaps this symbolism speaks of a time when B'nei Yisrael will be so secure that heavy fortification will be unnecessary, a time when the whole world is filled with the recognition of HaShem, the time of Mashiach, may it come speedily in our day.


May HaShem continue to give us strength, making us like a head and not a tail, and may you all have a shanah tovah umsukah and a kesivah vachasima tovah.


Have a good Yom Tov.


Eliezer Bulka

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