Why We Eat the Head of a Fish

by Rabbi Sholom Avtzon

One of the prevalent customs of Rosh Hashanah is that during the meals, we eat various foods. Our minhag (custom) is that we only say a special yehi ratzon before we eat the apple dipped in honey. However, in many communities people say a (different) yehi ratzon on each item eaten, be it the head of a fish or ram, the carrots that are made especially sweet, or other foods.

The fact that we don’t say these yehi ratzons over the other food items doesn’t mean that we disagree with the concept, for then we wouldn’t have them on the table at all. We eat them specifically because of their significance.

For example, we all eat the pomegranate because it symbolizes that each and every Jew is full of mitzvos. However, for whatever reason it was, the Alter Rebbe decided that these thoughts occupy our minds and not be verbalized.

The same is true when we eat the carrots (or, as they are called in Yiddish, Meirin): it is because meirin also has the meaning of multiply, and we have in mind the tefillah that the Jewish people should multiply greatly.

This brings us to the custom of having the head of a sheep or a fish on the table. The yehi ratzon said on it is Sheniyeh Lirosh Vilo Lizunov – that we should be to a head and not to a tail.

The mashpia Reb Peretz Mockin would ask: If the words simply meant, as commonly translated, that we shall be a head, the proper Hebrew wording would have been Sheniyeh Rosh. The letter lamed at the beginning of the word LiRosh denotes that the tefillah is that we be to the head, but not that we are asking to be the head itself.

He would then explain: Our sincere request is that we should be connected to the one who is the Rosh – Head – and that is our Rebbeim. Yes, there are definitely other great and tremendous tzaddikim, and one should not chas v’sholom minimize their greatness. But they are not equal to the nesi’im of Chassidus in general and of Chabad in particular.

The author can be contacted at avtzonbooks@gmail.com

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