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Many Jewish traditions link water to purification. We ritually wash our hands before meals. We immerse in the mikvah at moments of transition and transformation. And during Tishrei, the month of the High Holidays, we use water to cast our sins away in a ritual called tashlich.
Tashlich is a simple but powerful ritual. Start by finding a large, natural body of flowing water like a lake, river, sea or ocean. If there's fish in the water, even better. Fish getting unintentionally caught in nets symbolize people getting accidentally stuck in bad situations. Line your pockets with crumbs of bread, flower petals, pieces of leaves or other natural materials that will disintegrate safely in the water. These will symbolize your sins.
As you stand at the water's edge, reflect on where you have made mistakes in the past year. Read some of the poems and psalms in this booklet, or take a moment to meditate and reflect on your actions. Take a walk, sing a song or even wade into the water if it's safe to do so.
Pause for a moment. Look at the water as you take the crumbs or leaves from your pockets. One by one, cast them into the water, exhaling and releasing each sin as you are ready.
"Whatever falls into the deep is lost forever," The Zohar
Take yourself to the nearest moving body of water. Bring a slice of stale bread, or gather some leaves from the ground. Tear these into small pieces. Imagine the things you wish you could cast away - the hurt, embarrassment, and shame you have caused others. Fling these into the water, hard. Then, pause. Steady yourself on the bank. Take ten long breaths, one for each holy day. Now cast the next set: intentions for the coming year. Toss a crumb for kindness, a piece of leaf for community. Last, gather what hurt you have been holding. Have you held it in your lungs, your chest, your belly? Find it. Hold it in your fist. Bring your fist into the water. Uncurl your fingers. Let the current carry it out of range.
From Dane Kuttler's The G!d Wrestlers, The Social Justice Warrior's Guide to the High Holy Days, Sept. 2015
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech haolam, she’asah et ha’yam ha’gadol.
We praise You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe who made the great sea.
A Prayer for Tashlich by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
Here I am again
ready to let go of my mistakes.
Help me to release myself
from all the ways I've missed the mark.
Help me to stop carrying
the karmic baggage of my poor choices.
As I cast this bread upon the waters
lift my troubles off my shoulders.
Help me to know that last year is over,
washed away like crumbs in the current.
Open my heart to blessing and gratitude.
Renew my soul as the dew renews the grasses.
And we say together:
Cover of Seeker Season: Guide for the Curious and Courageous by Jessica Tamar Deutsch
Praise the LORD, for He is good, His steadfast love is eternal.
Let Israel declare, “His steadfast love is eternal.”
Let the house of Aaron declare, “His steadfast love is eternal.”
Let those who fear the LORD declare, “His steadfast love is eternal.”
In distress I called on the LORD; the Lord answered me and brought me relief.
The LORD is on my side, I have no fear; what can man do to me?
With the LORD on my side as my helper, I will see the downfall of my foes.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in mortals;
it is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in the great.
All nations have beset me; by the name of the LORD I will surely cut them down.
They beset me, they surround me; by the name of the LORD I will surely cut them down.
They have beset me like bees; they shall be extinguished like burning thorns; by the name of the LORD I will surely cut them down.
You pressed me hard, I nearly fell; but the LORD helped me.
The LORD is my strength and might; He has become my deliverance.
The tents of the victorious resound with joyous shouts of deliverance, “The right hand of the LORD is triumphant!
The right hand of the LORD is exalted! The right hand of the LORD is triumphant!”
I shall not die but live and proclaim the works of the LORD.
The LORD punished me severely, but did not hand me over to death.
Open the gates of victory for me that I may enter them and praise the LORD.
This is the gateway to the LORD— the victorious shall enter through it.
I praise You, for You have answered me, and have become my deliverance.
The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our sight.
This is the day that the LORD has made— let us exult and rejoice on it.
O LORD, deliver us! O LORD, let us prosper!
May he who enters be blessed in the name of the LORD; we bless you from the House of the LORD.
The LORD is God; He has given us light; bind the festal offering to the horns of the altar with cords.
You are my God and I will praise You; You are my God and I will extol You.
Praise the LORD for He is good, His steadfast love is eternal.
A song of ascents. Out of the depths I call You, O LORD.
O Lord, listen to my cry; let Your ears be attentive to my plea for mercy.
If You keep account of sins, O LORD, Lord, who will survive?
Yours is the power to forgive so that You may be held in awe.
I look to the LORD; I look to Him; I await His word.
I am more eager for the Lord than watchmen for the morning, watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, wait for the LORD; for with the LORD is steadfast love and great power to redeem.
It is He who will redeem Israel from all their iniquities.
Forgiveness is For the Giving
By Rachel Kann
There is a little whisper within you.
It speaks discreetly,
yet yearns to be heard.
The world is ending
to begin again.
You are your own rectification.
You are your own next generation.
Forgiveness is for the giving:
Round out your harsh angling,
You have been restored.
Every breath is a second chance.
Make no mistake,
your daily awakening
is proof positive of a mercy
Having been given so much,
what use is there in withholding?
Your heart is a hive, abuzz.
Love wants to spill—
honey through the floodgates.
Art from Illuminating Our Journey: A Nireh Or Guide to the High Holidays by Rabbi Hayley Goldstein with art by Lizzie Sivitz