For more than six centuries Jews have gathered by bodies of water…rivers, streams, lakes, oceans and, in landlocked cities such as Jerusalem, by wells and cisterns, in order to participate in a Rosh Hashanah ritual known as Tashlich. This Hebrew word means “you shall cast”, as we read in these verses from the prophet Micah:
God will take us back in love;
God will cover up our iniquities.
You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.
Sometime during the Middle Ages our ancestors developed the custom of walking to a body of water on the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah where, with the recitation of prayers, they would empty their pockets and shake their clothing free of the sins they believed had accumulated there during the previous year. Often they would toss crumbs of bread to the fishes whose never-blinking eyes reminded them of God’s eternal watchfulness. [Out of respect for the delicate beauty of the beach, tidal river and marsh where we gather, we do not toss bread crumbs; instead, we toss pebbles into the water.]
Why should we, as Reform Jews, be interested in a practice which, on the surface, seems to be mere superstition? One of the beauties of Reform Judaism is its ability to peel back the outer layers of superstitions to uncover the impulses beneath them to reclaim and transform them into rituals which can enhance our celebration of Jewish life. So it can be with Tashlich. We can plumb the depths of this old ritual and transform it into something new and valuable to each of us.