From the River Jordan in the Middle East to the waterways beneath the Brooklyn Bridge, along the eastern shore and anywhere else where Orthodox Jews might be gathered, you can expect to find plenty of bread crumbs floating down-stream or riding salty waves out to sea.
On this special day, each morsel of bread represents sins and the casting into the water is a symbol of atonement. It is the “washing away” on the Day of Judgment known as “Tashlich”.
Tashlich (תשליך) is a ritual that many Jews observe during Rosh Hashanah. “Tashlich” means “casting off” in Hebrew and it involves symbolically casting off the sins of the previous year by tossing pieces of bread or another food into a body of flowing water. Just as the water carries away the bits of bread, so too are sins symbolically carried away. In this way the participant hopes to start the New Year with a clean slate.
Tashlich originated during the Middle Ages and was inspired by a verse uttered by the prophet Micah:
God will take us back in love;
God will cover up our iniquites,
You [God] will hurl all our sins
Into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:19)
Tashlich is traditionally performed on the first day of the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah), but if this day falls on Shabbat then tashlich isn’t observed until the second day of Rosh HaShanah. If it is not performed on the first day, it can be done anytime up until the last day of Sukkot, which is thought to be the last day of the New Year’s “judgment” period.
In order to perform tashlich you must take pieces of bread or another food and go to a flowing body of water such as a river, stream, sea or ocean. Lakes or ponds that have fish are also a good place, because the animals will eat the food and fish are believed by folklore to be immune to the evil eye.
Some traditions say that fish are also significant because they can be trapped in nets just as we can be trapped in sin. In some communities people will also pull out their pockets and shake them to make sure any lingering sins are cast off.
Tashlich has traditionally been a solemn ceremony but in recent years it has become a very social occasion. People often gather at the same body of water to perform the ritual. In New York, for example, it is popular to perform tashlich by tossing pieces of bread off the Brooklyn or Manhattan bridges.
I find it interesting how this ritual so closely matches my own Christian baptism with Jesus as the ultimate “atonement” for my sins. Just as the Jewish people long to wash away the sins of the past year so they can enter into the future with a “clean slate”, the act of baptism represents a “washing away” of the past before coming to the cross and accepting Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice for my own sins.
The Ten Day focus of Rosh Hashanah takes the sin, cleansing and renewal theme even further with a deliberate Old Testament style repentance. It is a radical, fervent, harsh and hard-core approach frequently neglected in modern synagogues and churches.
Call it extreme but the world needs this kind of feasting and fasting, an sharp and critical soul searching and a solemn soaking experience. America needs a deep intense soul cleansing–an inner intricate finding and binding; a shattering, shaking, wide awakening.
I need it too. I need God to prune me to the core.
We all need a reviving and life-saving experience like that of the Ninehvites when Jonah finally reached them. We need a no escape, sack-cloth, shaved heads and ashes, fist-clenching, gut-wrenching and heart rendering face on the floor multi-day prayer summit. We need an unscheduled revival.
Its not too late but how many of us are Orthodox, thirsty or determined enough to comply–just for 10 days? Throw the clock out the window and get rug burns on our knees. Disregard the agenda. Shut off the computer. Forget facebook. Hold the phone.
I dare you.
This summer I set out to spend 40 days writing, fasting and praying. I set my goal too high. Yes, I got a good start but too soon I let everything slip. Everything I set out to do got put on the back burner and suddenly I found myself hopelessly back in my rut. Going nowhere. Two steps forward and three steps back. My spiritual growth on hold.
Brothers and sisters we are in times that are too critical for the normal routine of comfortable Christianity. The two step dance leads nowhere. Now is the time to break the routine and get out of the rut. Whatever hindrances have you bound, now is the time to break free.
I preach change and revival to myself realizing now might be a good time to go down to the river to pray with my own bag of bread crumbs and a renewed desire to repent, get closer to God and to seek His perfect will for my life.
Will you join me?