Tashlich is one of my favorite components of the Rosh Hashanah service. I so appreciate the physical action that represents something so much deeper. For those who have never participated in a Tashlich ceremony, I will begin by telling you that the Hebrew word tashlich means “casting off”.
It is perfectly fitting with the holiday of Rosh Hashanah when we hope to cast off the sins from the previous year and enter the coming year filled with hope and renewal. During tashlich, we literally and figuratively throw away our sins.
Orthodox and non-orthodox congregations perform the ceremony of tashlich. Typically, pieces of bread are thrown into a moving body of water. The water then carries our sins away.
Various pieces of liturgy are recited during tashlich, but one common verse comes from Micha 7: 18 – 20: “Who is a G-d like You, forgiving iniquity and remitting transgression; Who has not maintained His wrath forever against the remnant of His own people, because He loves graciousness! He will take us back in love; He will cover up our iniquities; You will hurl all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will keep faith with Jacob, loyalty to Abraham, as you promised on oath to our fathers in days gone by.”
You see the origins of tashlich in there, right? Imagine your sins being hurled into the sea. And, that’s exactly what we do as we toss our breadcrumbs into the moving waters. We watch our sins being taken away, giving us another chance to do right in G-d’s world.
When I participate in tashlich, I am inspired to perform hitbodedut, a practice of walking and talking to G-d. Literally, it is self-seclusion and while tashlich is done in a communal group, there is space for a private conversation with G-d. In a private corner, I find myself (and my children as well) crouching down close to the water. I toss in my breadcrumbs giving each one of them a name – a wrongdoing I want to release. Once my crumbs are gone, there is often more to say. With my hands cupped around my mouth, I begin a silent conversation with G-d.
It is cathartic and moving. My children, too, are inspired by their own realizations.
There are other benefits to the tashlich ceremony. It is a great way to break up the long synagogue service for our children. Even our young preschoolers enjoy throwing bread into water and naming the “bad choices” they have made throughout the year (or at least in the last week). Many Jewish preschools incorporate tashlich into their Rosh Hashanah learning.
Tashlich is a tradition embraced by most denominations of Judaism. It is a powerful method of introspection and atonement. May you always find words to attach to the crumbs you toss in the waters.