Tashlich

By Nathan Shedroff

Tashlich or Tashlikh, is a ceremony every Rosh Hashanah marking the beginning of the new year when we “cast off” the old year and, with it, the things we chose not to carry forward. It is one of the most symbolic of Jewish ceremonies.

Traditionally, on the first afternoon of the new year (or the second if the first falls on Shabbat), this ritual takes place near the edge of flowing water: a river bank or the beach of a lake, sea, or ocean. As far back as the 1400s, some have marked the occasion by metaphorically tossing their sins into the sea by literally throwing crumbs or small pieces of bread into the water or shaking the corners of their clothes toward the water. Some rabbis oppose the bread, using stones instead. Others oppose the appearance of ridding sin without the necessary repentance. Regardless, these are symbolic gestures that underpin the literal actions of atonement.

Tasklikh, Hebrew for “to cast,” is inspired by the Biblical passage (Micah 7:18–20) “God will hurl all our sins into the depths of the sea.” While not all have the luxury of living near a moving body of water, a pond or fountain can do. You can also perform Tashlikh anytime before Sukkot, the end of the atonement period.

Since there is no formal ceremony described in the Torah or Talmud, you can celebrate in any way meaningful to you. Tashlique is an updated version of this ceremony: head to the edge of any water outside or just a quiet place, alone or in a group. Outside is key—this isn’t a ceremony for inside a temple. Make it a celebration with communal music, food, and prayers. But, be sure to take time, by yourself, for introspection, a requirement for this time of the Jewish year. This is an opportunity to orient yourself in place and time—specifically in the world and at the start of a new year. You don’t need others to do this. But, the sky and any other part of Nature will reinforce your place in the world.

Contemplate the things you want to leave behind in the past year and what to carry with you into the new one. This isn’t only for sins, but events, ideas, obsessions, and anything that may weigh upon you. Symbolically, throw these into the water. If possible, find or bring a stick to write into the sand at the edge of the surf, those things you want to leave in the year past, and watch the waves take them away, literally and figuratively.