I don’t need to tell you that food is an important part of Rosh Hashanah. Many special foods are included in a traditional Rosh Hashanah meal; the foods themselves are considered to be blessings. Sweet foods are eaten to symbolize our hope for a “sweet new year.” We enjoy “new fruit,” a fruit that has recently come into season but we have not yet had the opportunity to enjoy this year (often a pomegranate). I’m not into this one, but the head of a fish is sometimes served, to remind us to be “like the head and not the tail”—so we’ll be leaders, not followers. I guess this is one way to get ahead. The fish also symbolizes the translation of Rosh Hashanah, which literally means, “Head of the Year” in Hebrew. A special challah is baked, sweetened with raisins and braided into a round shape, to show that the year is round. Apples are dipped in honey, again symbolizing sweetness. All of these traditions are important, because they help to connect us to the deeper meaning of the Rosh Hashanah holiday.
But all of these customs are not the essence of the Jewish New Year. The New Year is about looking inwards. Too much of the time, we are busy blaming others for what we lack in our lives. On Rosh Hashanah, facing G-d means facing the truth about ourselves. This means recognizing that we do have faults, that we do make mistakes, and that blaming others is a kind of diversion or alibi.
The best people I know use Rosh Hashanah to look at their relationships and think about how they can do better with the people they care about. This is serious work and it is not fun to realize that we are often at fault for how things are going with our loved ones.
So take Rosh Hashanah seriously, and think about your life. And then eat a lot. But I’m still not sure you need to eat a head.