Rosh HaShanah – The Head as a Metaphor
The name of the upcoming yom tov, “Rosh HaShanah” is kind of peculiar when you think about it. Why do we use the body as an analogy to describe a new beginning?
One of my all-time favorite rabbis and teachers, Rav Adin Steinsaltz, teaches that Rosh Hashanah is such a strange name that “it is only because of our familiarity with it that we fail to notice its strangeness.”
He teaches that, more precisely, we should call the day on which the new year begins Reishit HaShanah, the beginning of the year. After all, the term Rosh HaShanah means the “head” of the year – but the term rosh describes a part of the body, not the beginning of something new!
Rav Steinsaltz explains that the name Rosh HaShanah, using the rosh as a metaphor, actually illuminates one of the deep truths about this very special day. Just as every living creature has a head, so too does the year. Just as a head has a specific relationship with the body in that the head influences and brings life to the whole body, so too Rosh HaShanah is not only the day that begins the new year but rather it is the day that influences and brings life to the entire year.
This doesn’t mean that we need to make all of our plans for the whole year on Rosh Hashanah of course. Rather, we should have in mind the character of the year we wish to have and the person we wish to be.
Because we know that the days of Rosh HaShanah affect the entire year, we must be extra careful about the way we conduct ourselves on these days. We pray more than we usually do, we have extra kavanah in our prayers, we celebrate with friends and family, and we do special things to influence the coming year, such as eating apples dipped in honey to have a sweet new year.
May we all be blessed to have a good, sweet, and healthy new year!
Questions for the Yom Tov Table:
- What meanings do you find in the metaphor comparing the beginning of the year to the head of body?
- What kavanot (intentions or directions of the heart) for the rest of the year do you have on this Rosh HaShanah?