Every year on the first night of Rosh Hashanah, after dipping the challah and apples in honey, we bring a cooked head to the table. Many people use the head of a fish, but our family custom is to use a ram's head.

The custom is ancient and derives from a verse in the Torah: "And G‑d will place you at the head and not the tail; you will be ascendant and never subordinate when you adhere to the commandments of G‑d."1 As we gather around the Rosh Hashanah table, we implore G‑d to fulfill this blessing, and for our part, we commit to our side of the bargain.

The animal's head is a prop: a palpable reminder of the decisions made over the course of Rosh Hashanah, which affect the entirety of the coming year. As we savor a forkful of ram – or fish – cheek, we declare in ringing tones: "Let it be G‑d's will that we should be the head, and not the tail."

It is truly a memorable custom, and one I hope my children will observe in turn, but I do wonder about the phrase I just quoted. Surely the second part is unnecessary? If we are the head, then by definition, we're not the tail!

Which child wouldn't rather run first in a lower heat than last in the higher?Do you remember back in primary school picking the heats for the annual sports day? You may not have been the fastest kid in the class, but you weren't totally uncoordinated. There was always a subtle temptation to conceal your true form so they'd put you in a lower heat where you could triumph in style. Given the choice, which child wouldn't rather run first in a lower heat than last in the higher?

It's a sign of maturity to want to test your mettle against the big boys, to challenge yourself to be your best, and let the honors fall as they may. The momentary pleasure of enshrined mediocrity may be alluring, but the knowledge that I've competed with the best and truly deserve my place in the sun begets a more permanent pride.

Anyone can be a head among those at the tail, hanging out with the losers so as to feel puffed up in comparison. However we're begging G‑d to help us achieve true success over this coming year. We want a seat at the true head table, to achieve greatness where it really counts and to bring credit to our purpose and our Creator.

By refusing to take the easy road on our journey through the coming year, we're committing ourselves to trying and striving until we become one with our faith and our G‑d, and we will definitely soon be enjoying the heady taste of true achievement.