Rosh Hashanah's Ritual of Tashlich
Come sundown, Jewish families all over the world will celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Welcome to a sweet year 5772! This will mark the beginning of the High Holy Days, culminating 10 days later in Yom Kippur. There are many beautiful things about Rosh Hashanah - from the blowing of the shofar, to the preparation of sweet foods for a sweet year.
On the first day of the year, many Jewish families will also observe a ritual from which we can all take meaning, called Tashlich. I love ritual. We human creatures are so remarkable. We create ritual to mark moments, to serve as the rungs on the ladder of our lives. There is a special warmth that can be found in the familiarity of shared tradition, year after year, generation after generation. Tashlich is one of those meaningful experiences.
In Hebrew, Tashlich means "casting away". On the first night of Rosh Hashanah, or during the next few days, many Jews will gather at a body of water, preferably a flowing body with fish in it, say special prayers and symbolically cast away their sins, shortcomings and mistakes of the past year. Some folks might actually toss breadcrumbs in the water as a symbol. Others may shake the edges of their garments or turn out their pockets as a gesture of casting away.
If you go to a bridge near any of the preponderantly Jewish communities in New York City on the 29th of September (this year), you will see thousands of women, men and children gathering for Tashlich. In less populous areas, you may just see a few people gathered contemplatively around a lake or pond. On Venice Beach in California, you might see gatherings of congregations playing happy music, praying and enjoying the experience.
Why moving water? Why with fish? The moving water is preferred because it visually carries away, representing change and the fluidity of life. Nothing can grow without water, so we come to water as a step in our growing. The symbol of the fish is because fish never close their eyes, so they are a reminder of how we hope for G-d's ever compassionate view of us. Also, fish can be ensnared in nets, so this should remind us not to be caught up in negative actions.
Rebbitzin Chana Bracha Siegelbaum, author of "Women at the Crossroads" states in her blog of the same name, "Through the Tashlich, we reverse the way of Narcissus, who falls in love with his own image. We throw into the water shards of our broken heart, which are its imperfections. Our heart then re-emerges into a greater whole as “nothing is more whole than a broken heart...”
So this is a brief glimpse into Tashlich, but what if you are not Jewish? Can this ritual have any meaning for you? Any time we contemplatively sum up our mistakes, our shortcomings and errors, and resolve to change, is just good spiritual exercise, no matter who you are; it flexes the muscles of our souls.
Tashlich's form tells us that our misdeeds are not us. They are not who we are. They are things in our lives that we can change. We do not need to be attached to them. Using the universal symbol of water as part of what cleanses us is echoed in every religious tradition.
BubbeWisdom after speaking of the famine in Somalia says,"For this tashlich, let’s stretch ourselves to go beyond our personal sins and release any undercurrent of powerlessness so that we may sail into an authentic transformation for this new year."
Kim, a blogger on Hormone Colored Days and a mother of teens, says: "This time of year, it is customary to apologize to those you hurt, or may have hurt through words and actions. The Jewish concept of sin, is taken from the word's Hebrew meaning, which is to miss the mark....I had a boss who once put it quite bluntly. He'd walk around the office saying, 'Sorry for being an a**hole.'"
Think for a moment -- what do you want to cast away? What are the obstacles in your life? What are the regrets, the sorrows, the cracks in your heart, the secret sadness, the worry, the fear that you would like to cast away, trusting G-d (or if you are not in a faith tradition, trusting the Universe) to see both you and your regrets with love.
On New Year and on every day, whatever you hold onto that weighs you down, cast it off! Shrug your spiritual shoulders, give your soul a shake and cast your self-imposed obstacles off! The world already hands us burdens, it is our task to not add to them. Cast off what you can. Make things right with others. Go forward renewed.