Tashlich is a Jewish New Year’s custom that originated in the Middle Ages and is traditionally done on the first day of Rosh Hashanah
(on the second day if the first day is on Shabbat). We to go to the banks of a stream or other natural body of water, and symbolically “cast our sins” into the water by tossing breadcrumbs that will be eaten by the fish or birds. Today some people toss birdseed, pebbles or flower petals as better for the wildlife.
This custom is based on the following biblical verse, which is customarily, recited at Tashlich along with other songs and prayers:
God will return and have mercy for us, overcome our sin,
and you shall cast out our sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:19)
יָשׁ֣וּב יְרַֽחֲמֵ֔נוּ יִכְבֹּ֖שׁ עֲוֺֽנֹתֵ֑ינוּ Yashuv yerachamenu, yichbosh ‘avonoteynu
וְתַשְׁלִ֛יךְ בִּמְצֻל֥וֹת יָ֖ם כָּל־חַטֹּאותָֽם ve-tashlich bimtzulot yam kol chatotam
Rabbis originally looked askance at Tashlich as a superstitious custom, but the folk won out. At the New Year, as we celebrate the passage of time, we feel a need to cast off the burdens of the past and let them go into the flow of life. And part of the charm of the custom seems to be going out for a walk in nature after a long morning at the synagogue. “The birthday of the world,” should not just be spent indoors! Some communities blow the shofar, sing songs, and have a picnic.
Kavannot (Intentions): Clasp a bit of bread (or some seeds) tightly in your hand. Intend to imbue them with the energy of something you want to release. Perhaps is it a bad habit. Do the work to change the habit day by day, but use the ceremony as a way to ritualize your goal. Maybe this time you are focusing on releasing a grudge or baggage from the past year. Or perhaps you are dealing with change in your life that is beyond your control and the ceremony this year will focus on letting go of attachment to the way you wish things would be, so that you can open up your emotions and outlook to new possibilities.
Rabbis Phyllis Berman and Arthur Waskow give a new explanation of Tashlich as “recycling” rather than “casting away” our sins. There is no “away” in the realm of ecology, or in the realm of behavior, they explain. They redefine Tashlich–done with pebbles from the riverbank so as not to pollute the water–as “more about rebirth than getting rid of something,” inviting participants to “focus first on the sparks of life energy imprisoned in these pebbles or misdeeds,” and to imagine a better and healthier use for that distorted and thwarted energy before releasing it into the water, symbol of rebirth.
Featured image: View from One Mile bridge, Bidwell Park, Chico, California, where we did Tashlich, JHD