“WHEN I WAS a kid, that phrase was my older brother’s sneaky way of securing his place as the coin-flipping champion. After months of never winning, I involuntarily secured my place as the coin-flipping loser.
One day, I took the time to think about the meaning of my brother’s phrase. Then, I realized with satisfaction that I had not ever been the loser. I had merely played the fool.
We are approaching Rosh Hashanah, the Head of the Year.
On Rosh Hashanah, we ask that we be granted the following blessing:
“May it be Hashem’s (G-d’s) will, that you will be toward the head and not the tail.” (Ki Tavo-28:13.)
We understand that, as the head is the leader of the body, this blessing is about being a leader.
The PURPOSE of Rosh Hashanah is to proclaim Hashem as King. (Creator, Ruler, Sustainer, energy before, beyond and through all time, space, materials, events and creatures).
Question number one - How does MY “being a head” connect me to the purpose of the day?
And question number two -How can we all be ‘heads’? (Who will be the body?)
Let’s see what ‘being a head’ can mean for purposefully celebrating Rosh Hashanah.
Rabbi Shimshon Pincus,(zt”l) writes- “At the end of a lifetime of Torah study, an individual may find himself being referred to as “the tail,” because his soul was not satiated.”
How could a soul still be hungry after years of feasting on words of Torah?
Sadly, there is a way: If the person studied simply, because “everyone is doing it.”
The same lifetime of study could have satiated his soul, had he used his own mind to decide that the reason to learn is because G-d/my G-dly soul wants and needs it.
That others are doing the same, is a fringe benefit, a wonderful support system to inspire and uplift us along the way, but should not be the core reason for study.
With Rav Pincus’s words in mind, we are reminded of the integral value to lead ourselves!
We each need to be a ‘head’ of our decisions, speech and actions.
Keeping in mind the purpose of Rosh Hashanah: Nobody else can recognize for me that Hashem is King.
I need to do that for myself.
On Rosh Hashanah, I ask that Hashem kick-start me to the level of leading myself even as I follow the path that others have paved before me and others are following today.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shneerson, zt”l, once listened to a man complain that a blessing he had been given had not come to fruition. The Rebbe explained that blessings are like rain for a farmer’s field: If the farmer tilled and plowed and planted, then the rain will bring forth results. When man prepares himself, the blessings will affect change.
And how do I prepare myself to be the recipient of the “head not tail” blessing?
I need to arouse in myself thoughts of G-dly motivation. In this way, the blessing to be a “head” (of myself can take root in the mind-soil of hope I have tilled, from the mind-seeds of faith I have planted and desire for growth I have sown in myself.
When I toil to live as a “head,” so will my children learn the desire to lead themselves:
They will not simply do as I do; They will open themselves to receive their own blessing of self-leadership on the path toward G-dliness.
And before a coin flips – Heads or tails- we can decide to be “heads.”
For we need not play the fools.
And regardless of others or inspired by others, we and our children can each be a champion.
Shana Tova Umetukah!
D’vorah Miller is the director of Jewish Studies at Irvine Hebrew Day School.