Under the Sea

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Ki Savo, the Torah tells us that when we will be blessed, Hashem will put us לְרֹאשׁ, וְלֹא לְזָנָב, וְהָיִיתָ רַק לְמַעְלָה, וְלֹא תִהְיֶה לְמָטָּה – for the head and not for the tail, we shall be only above and not be below (Devarim 28:13).

It is for this reason that we eat from a fish head on Rosh HaShanah: May it be Your will Hashem, that we be as the head and not as the tail.  In addition, we eat fish as well (not only from the head!) to symbolize that we should be fruitful and multiply like fish. 

Why do we specifically ask that we be blessed like fish, and not any other creature?

At the end of his life, when Yaakov Avinu blesses Ephraim and Menashe, the sons of Yosef, he blesses them that the should multiply like fish in the midst of the earth, וְיִדְגּוּ לָרֹב, בְּקֶרֶב הָאָרֶץ (Bereishis 48:16). 

Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch explains that the comparison to fish “coveys the deep significance of Yaakov’s blessing, teaching us what it means to participate in the fate of Yaakov and to be called by the name Yaakov; what it means to walk before G-d, before Whom the patriarchs walked…

“In their own separate element, in depths imperceptible to the human eye, fish live their quiet lives.  People standing on shore are unaware, have no idea, of the carefree, vibrant, contended life going on below in rich abundance, from generation to generation.  Similarly, the family of Yaakov shall lead their own independent, quiet and fulfilling lives; they shall live בְּקֶרֶב הָאָרֶץ, in their own separate element, in an element impenetrable and unfathomable to the world around them.  They shall live like fish in water, in the midst of mankind on earth.”

In one particularly meaningful mussar shmuess to his talmidim in Yeshivas Ner Yisroel Baltimore, R’ Yosef Tendler zt’l, related the following story to the boys: “At a Torah U’mesorah convention, I heard that when R’ Yaakov Bender was sixteen, he went to a baseball game with one of his friends.  The NY Yankees’ center fielder, Mickey Mantle, had thus far hit 499 home runs.  For two weeks the Yankees had sold out to record crowds who were hoping to see him hit the big number 500, but they were disappointed.  During the 7th inning of that game, however, Mantle hit his 500th home run, and the entire stadium stood up, shouting, ‘Mick! Mick! Mick!’  Beer bottles were flying everywhere.  (A young Rav) Yaakov turned to his friend, ‘Let’s get out of here quickly,’ he said, ‘before we become like them.’” (I am Your Servant, p.184)

When we recognize our own worth as a people, when we take pride in our heritage, our customs, and live our lives according to Torah and mitzvos, when we live like fish in the midst of the earth – in our own separate element, unfathomable to the world around us – then we will truly be blessed. 

As the Torah assures us, then we will be לְרֹאשׁ, וְלֹא לְזָנָב.

As we prepare to usher in 5776, let us be proud of who we are as individuals and as a nation.  And perhaps then we will merit the long-awaited day, when our nation will finally be above and not below, amen v’amen.

בברכת שבת שלום

וכתיבה וחתימה טובה


  • Debbie Friedman
    Posted at 08:21h, 04 September

    Wow Michal, so beautiful. Thanks for sharing.
    have a good Shabbos and a good gebentched year for you and your family.

  • Carol
    Posted at 10:52h, 04 September

    Beautifully put! May we all merit the fulfilment of our individuality for ourselves, our family and our people.
    Good Shabbos and thank you, as always, for your inspiration.

  • Debbie Friedman
    Posted at 14:50h, 04 September

    Beautiful, thanks for sharing.
    Have a good shabbos and a
    good gebentched year.

  • Marla
    Posted at 17:36h, 04 September

    I read that Kabbalah teaches us that flowing water symbolizes kindness, while fish, which have no eyelids, remind us of Hashem’s ever-watchful providence. Ketiva v’chatima tova.