Rosh Hashanah
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Rosh Hashanah
Tashlich - Drowning Our Sins

Adapted from Days of Awe by Shai Agnon

Reciting the Tashlich Prayers, early 20th Century (K. Feizenhardt) | The Ritual of Casting |
It happens like this: After lunch on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, and in most communities after the afternoon service and before sunset, the ritual of the Casting is performed. Crumbs of bread are tossed into water, after the Torah verse: "And you will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea."

And according to one opinion, we also shake out the hems of our clothing three times, as an allusion to the fact that we are putting our heart to the casting out of our sins, in order to become clean of all sin. There is support for this custom in the Scripture (Nehemiah 5:13): "Also I shook out my lap, and said: 'So God shake out every man from his house (...who does not perform this promise)' " [Mahzor Ohole Yaakov].

| Seas and rivers; springs and fountains |
The ritual of Tashlich is normally performed at a sea or river which contains fish. If there is no such sea or river in that area, the ritual is undertaken in a spring or fountain.

In Jerusalem, Tashlich is said near cisterns which still hold water. The inhabitants of Safed go up to the roofs of their houses where they can see Lake Kinneret, and there say the prayers. And in Aden, it is customary to conduct the ceremony near the ritual bathhouse in the courtyard of the main House of Prayer.

Reciting Tashlich- Mark Chagall | Prayers beseeching mercy |
Various verses are said, including another reference to water: "They shall not hurt nor destroy My holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9). Then is added the prayer composed by Rabbi Hayyim Joseph David Azulai (18th cent.) to awaken compassion for Israel, and to beseech the Holy One, blessed be He, that those who conduct these prayers be helped to serve Him, and be remembered and inscribed in the Book of Life.

Also recalled are the many hundreds of years Jews have been calling on the great Name and believing in God and his sacred Torah, and how his people have been killed and burned to death and drowned for the sake of the sanctification of his Name. In the prayers we beseech God to return his Presence to Zion and to return Israel to their habitation.

| Other interpretations |

  • Up to Abraham's Neck. It is customary to go to seas and rivers on Rosh Hashanah because it says in the Midrash that when Abraham, our father, went to bind Issac his son, Satan went before him and turned into a great river before them, so that the waters reached up to Abraham's neck.

    At that moment Abraham raised his eyes to heaven and said "Master of the universe, you have chosen me, and been revealed to me, and said to me, "Through you shall my Name be known in my world", and now, "The waters have come in even unto my soul" (Psalm 69:2). If I, or Issac, my son, should drown, through whom would your Name be declared one?"

    Said the Holy One, Blessed be He: " By your life, my Name shall be declared one in my world through you." At once the Holy One, blessed be he, rebuked the river, and Abraham was saved. (According to Maharal)

  • As the Fish of the Sea It is customary to go to a river where there are fish, because we are compared to fish suddenly caught in a net. As the fish, so are we caught in the severe net of divine judgment, and gazing at the river, we contemplate Teshuvah. (Levush)

  • Spawning the Evil Eye Another reason is given in Eliyahu Zutta: We visit rivers with fish, that the evil eye may not govern us, as it cannot govern fish, and that we may be fruitful and multiply like fish. And those who interpret metaphorically say: Just as fish have no eyebrows and their eyes are always open, so let the eye of Him who is on high always be open for our benefit.

  • An Illusion The custom of going to a body of water on Rosh Hashanah is a symbolic allusion, for the waters which now seem to be at this place were not here before and will not remain afterward. So, if the sinner says to himself, "I will not repeat my sin," the sin, like the waters, will move on. (Sefer ha-Hayyim)

  • And to answer the question!

    The Nobel prize winner Shai Agnon recorded the following good advice:
    It is best to avoid the people who are light-minded... and say "I will shake off my transgressions," and taking hold of the folds of their clothing, shake them, thinking to themselves that by so doing a man can shake off the transgressions that he committed all the year before.

    And he ought not to think so, for it really is a desecration of the great Name of God before the nations that know of the custom. For when they see Jews going to the river, they say laughingly, "The Jews are going shiteln ire zind in vasser (to shake their sins into the water)."

    But if a person wants to observe the custom, let him say, "I will perform the Casting." For the principal purpose of the custom is to pray to God, to cast our iniquities into the depths of the sea, because in saying these verses we are contemplating Teshuvah...

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