Heads or Tails

Parshas Ki Sovo

If we obey Hashem’s commands, He will shower us with many blessings. Conversely, if we do not hearken to the voice of G-d, then Hashem has many curses with which to chastise us.

Question

One of the blessings Hashem promises to bestow upon us is: “You will make us as a head, and not as a tail”. The second phrase “and not as a tail” seems to be superfluous; surely if we are the head then we are not the tail.

This difficulty repeats itself with the prayer many say on Rosh Hashanah whilst consuming the head of a fish – “We should be as the head and not as the tail”.

Answer

In the times preceding Moshiach, asserts the Mishnah, society will be decadent. Amongst the depraved characteristics, enumerated in the Mishnah, is that the face of the generation will be like the face of a dog. What is the face of the generation? And how does it compare to a dog?

Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman in his pamphlet “The Epoch of Messiah” quotes an explanation from his mentor the Chofetz Chaim. The “face of the generation”, explains the Chofetz Chaim, are its leaders and chiefs. A capable, competent guide leads from the front, and is responsible for showing the way. In the era prior to Moshiach’s arrival the leaders will be constantly checking with the masses to see if the people are indeed following them. They will want to verify that their opinions are in sync with what the people want to hear, just as a dog glances back to see if it’s master is following.

We can use this idea to explain the seemingly redundant part of the blessing. Hashem promises “you will be the head and not the tail” for it is possible to have a head that is focused on the tail i.e. making sure the tail is in concord with the choices of the head. We will be blessed with leaders conducting the nation from the front thus guaranteeing that their followers will be heading forward.

Lesson

Look for a guide who will lead not follow.

Story

Rabbi Shmuel Friend (1795-1860) was a famous genius, head of the court in Prague, and among the fighters against the Reform movement.

Once he appeared before the governor to complain about the new laws which unjustly targeting the Jewish population. The governor was reluctant to aid him, as the city legislators had brought (false) proof of the justice inherent in these laws.

“Rabbi Friend” remonstrated the governor “What makes your one head more accurate and truthful, than the seven heads of the city legislators?”

Reb Shmuel responded in classic style with a counter question “If everything depends on numerical accounting, why did you bring up seven heads as opposed to fourteen feet?”

Weekly Halachah

When eating the Simanim on Rosh Hashanah, a person should arouse himself to return to Hashem, and say the “Yehi Rotzon” prayer with one’s whole heart (Mishnah Berurah 583:2).

4 Comments

  1. Thank you for the inciteful idea. It is certainly relevant to our current political environment. The following statement , however,is a little unclear to me -“We will be blessed with leaders conducting the nation from the front thus guaranteeing that their followers will be heading forward.” because both leaders are in front. The difference is that one leader is looking back and the other is not. Is the idea that we should be blessed with leaders who are confident that we are following in Torah Mitzvos, so they do not have to look back?

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