On the night of Rosh Hashana, many Jewish families have a custom to eat the head of a fish (gummy candy fish in my house) and say a short prayer playing upon the symbolism of the head. We pray that it be G-d’s will that in the coming year “we should be at the ‘head’ and not the ‘tail.'” In truth, though, what does it matter? It’s common to take pride in the position of leadership, but both the leader and the followers all ultimately arrive at the same place. What difference does it make who leads or follows?
Rabbi Shimshon Pincus zt”l notes that the “head” houses the intellect, the ability to discern and make decisions, while the tail follows “mindlessly.” Many things people do stem from the environment in which they were raised, or the community, culture, or social group with which they identify. The prayer to be the head and not the tail expresses our desire to grow with personal conviction, rather than follow the pack wherever it leads us.
Here’s something to ponder: What value do high moral standards have, if maintaining those levels of virtue simply result from the influences of a positive moral environment?
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Wishing you a Good Shabbos and a Shana Tova,
Rabbi Mordechai Dixler
Program Director, Project Genesis – Torah.org