Why Do We Eat Fish Heads On Rosh Hashanah?

Rabbi Aron Moss contributes regular Q&A commentaries to Gather the Jews.  Rabbi Moss is the proprietor of Nefesh and can be reached at rabbimoss@nefesh.com.au.  The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rabbi Moss.

Question of the Week:

I read somewhere that there is a custom to eat the head of a fish on the night of Rosh Hashanah, to symbolize that in the coming year “we should be the head and not the tail.” What does this actually mean? I can’t make head or tails of it… (sorry…)

Answer:

We face today a crisis of leadership. In almost every area of life – familial, communal, global and personal – there is a gaping void at the top. Rather than leading with vision and purpose, today’s leaders are often no more than followers.

Governments and communal leaders aren’t building policies based on deeply held values and time-tested truths, but rather shape their platforms by following popular opinion and adopting whatever pet issues are in fashion on the day. Many parents are not giving their kids clear direction and guidance, but rather take their cues from the children themselves and cave in to their every desire. Individuals are often not living lives directed by core beliefs and lofty ideals, but rather follow their lower instincts and then develop convoluted justifications for living a life of self-indulgence.

This is why we are so confused today. What should be the head is nothing more than a tail. Instead of ideals shaping reality, it’s the other way round – whatever my reality is, I will shape my ideals to fit it.

The reason for this crisis in the modern world is clear. We have forgotten G-d. We have lost our Head, our source of absolute truth. Once ultimate authority is weakened, all authority is weakened.

But we can turn this around. We can reconnect to our Head, the true Higher Authority. Only then can we have heads that are not tails.

Parents ought to have a clear picture of what they want their family to look like, based on eternal values that are as true today as they were for our grandparents. And then with love and sensitivity, along with firmness and discipline, parents must guide their children to live up to that standard. Leaders need to have a moral vision that is immune from the shortsighted influence of mob thinking, and with pragmatism and resolve inspire their constituents to share that vision.

As individuals we must espouse ideals that transcend our own selfishness, a higher purpose that comes from a place beyond our own ego, so we can control our lower urges and live a life of meaning and soulful achievement.

So as a New Year dawns, we pray that we should be the head and not the tail. We need it for our world, our families, and ourselves.

Regards,

Rabbi Moss