Men pray next to a plastic pool containing fish as they perform the ‘Tashlich’ ritual in Bnei Brak, in this photo from 2013, ahead of Yom Kippur..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
There’s still time for tashlich, the symbolic casting away of our sins by tossing bread crumbs into a flowing body of water. While generally performed on Rosh Hashana, tashlich can be done up until the end of Succot on Hoshana Raba, the final day of divine judgment when teshuva (atonement) is still available.
It seems only appropriate that this year tashlich be performed on Succot or “z’man simchateinu,” “the season of our rejoicing.” Moreover, this year Jews everywhere, particularly members of the American Jewish community, should participate in this seasonal ritual – even those who have dismissed the ceremony as a superstitious custom and a cheap facsimile of true repentance. Here’s why.
First and foremost, tashlich can become a catalyst for Jewish communal healing in today’s charged political climate where the Iran deal remains front and center despite the recent US congressional vote. With fiery High Holiday sermons and tense dinner conversations still focused on the consequences of the Iran agreement, tashlich provides a symbolic way to let go of what divides us and jump-start the process of reuniting ourselves as a community.
Both as a community and as individuals, we desperately need to heal from the vicious personal attacks, deprecating insults and name calling of the past few months. It’s time to let go of the anger and vitriol that pitted us against each other, acknowledge our sins, and begin the journey to teshuva as a community. Imagine the healing potential if synagogue members who were divided by the Iran debate were to perform tashlich on Succot as a way to move from pain to joy.
Central to the tashlich ceremony is water, which symbolizes the cosmos, purification, the source of blessings, and the redemptive powers of healing for both the individual and the community. As we throw bread crumbs into the water, tashlich enables us to examine our own reactions and behavior these past few months when the topic of Iran came up in private discourse or community conversations.
The water provides a mirror where we can peer into our souls and ask ourselves: Did you consider the humanity and dignity of those with differing perspectives and listen if they didn’t support your viewpoint? Did you participate in meaningful, open dialogue or did you hurl vitriolic attacks? And this coming year are you willing to make a commitment to respectful conversation across the political lines? Second, tashlich offers the opportunity to engage in genuine introspection and self-examination as the late American playwright Wendy Wasserstein suggested in Festival of Regrets, a libretto which takes place at the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park.
Indeed, as we gaze at our personal reflections in the water, tashlich helps us to dispose of our own personal baggage that impacts how we view the world and others – the regrets, hurts and painful memories from the past year, whether it was a job loss, economic reversal, romantic breakup or a political disappointment. By disposing of those breadcrumbs, we can shift our thoughts ahead to a positive future.
Third, tashlich can help us get rid of those personal demons that stand in our way, like the midrash where Satan in the form of a river tried to block Abraham and Isaac as they were en route to perform the Akeda, the sacrifice of Isaac. As we say goodbye to our breadcrumbs, we can free ourselves from the ghosts that haunt us. Tashlich can help us release those emotions – anxiety, fear, resentment, anger, or despair – that prevent us from leading a more fulfilling, meaningful and satisfying life.
Fourth, performing tashlich helps us reflect on how we can work on personal growth, renewal, transformation, and strive toward achieving redemption. It’s a perfect time to think about effecting change in the coming year and identifying the steps to becoming a better person. By looking at our reflection in the water, we can consider how to rectify past mistakes and make a mark on our communities and global society.
Finally, tashlich lets us take stock of our habits and determine what soul traits we can improve. In the spirit of mussar, the Jewish ethical tradition, we can start by choosing one mida or soul trait to improve, such as patience, compassion and lovingkindness.
Tashlich is a beautiful custom that gained a foothold among Ashkenazi Jews during the Middle Ages. As we enter 5776, tashlich provides us an entry point to begin the process of repentance and repair a broken Jewish community while also healing our own souls.The author is a writer and teacher in the Boston area.
She has written for a variety of publications including The Jerusalem Post, Tablet Magazine and The Jewish Week.