Redeeming Tashlikh, the Earth, & Our Misdeeds
By Rabbi Arthur Waskow *
Since this year the first day of Rosh Hashanah is Shabbat, most of our communities will on the afternoon of the second day do Tashlikh -- going to running water, tossing into it symbols of cast-off "misdeeds," reciting the verse from Micah (7: 19), "You will cast [tashlikh] all their misdeeds into the depths of the sea."
Many rabbis across the centuries have disliked this custom, fearing Jews would treat it as magic: now I'm free, I don't have to change my life. People loved it -- perhaps partly because it got them out from crowded synagogues into the sun and earth and river -- and maybe also because they liked the magic. So it survived.
Today we often learn from the use of "Tashlikh" elsewhere that "Tashlikh" means "cast toward transformation," not "get rid of."
We learn this from a very similar verse in Jonah (2: 4) where it is Jonah that is cast into the heart of the depths of the sea, and also from the verses, read on first day Rosh Hashanah (Gen. 21: 15), where Hagar casts Ishmael under a bush in desperate hope to save his life -- not to get rid of him.
What we "cast" is the leaning-toward-evil that is a husk around holy energy; we want the water to soak off the husks, revivify the holy seed, so what was sin comes back transformed and full of energy toward good.
Indeed, as we have learned from ecology, there is no "away" to throw our sins; we should not impose them on those who live downstream. Once their energy is redeemed toward good, we need them back.
The casting itself can be done with pebbles of different colors: one from transformation of the energy, one for what we truly wish to get rid of, It can begin with chants or prayers, include the reading of the verse from Micah, and include the actual "casting."
(It is best to avoid using bread crumbs, since they increase the organic content of our already endangered waters and thus encourage algae, etc., that use up oxygen. Indeed, one of the major aspects of Tashlikh can be become confronting our misdeeds against the earth and all its winds and waters.)
division of ALEPH; author of Godwrestling -- Round 2 and Seasons of Our Joy; and
co-author of A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven.
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