Casting Off

Honey jar with fresh apples

AS I SOMETIMES do for holiday columns, I turn to my friend and teacher Rabbi Lior Engelman for this year’s Rosh Hashanah column.  A note about Tashlich:  This Hebrew word means “casting off,” and it denotes a ritual (traditionally performed on the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah) whereby one symbolically casts off the sins of the previous year by tossing pieces of bread into a body of flowing water.  Just as the water carries away the bits of bread, so too, it is hoped, one’s sins will be carried away. 

It doesn’t sound right this Tashlich business.  Instead of confessing our sins and becoming aware of our faults, we go “casting off” on the Day of Judgment (Rosh Hashanah) and say to the solitary judge of the world: “Ignore, forget, cast all our sins to the deepest seas.”  Ostensibly, it’s as if we are not responsible for our actions, as if our sins were a trivial matter that can be thrown to the deepest seas—after which we can then continue on as normal.  Wondrous this Tashlich business.

And not just Tashlich. It’s a wonder how on the great Day of Judgment we renounce our right to request forgiveness and choose to re-crown the Master of the World.  It’s a wonder how instead of dealing with our sins, we dream of a world over which G-d’s kingship will hold sway, a world where “the righteous shall see and be glad, the just exult, and the pious rejoice in song” [from the Rosh Hashanah liturgy]. A world that is a harmonious whole, where all creatures become united as one to do His bidding with a complete heart.  It is a wonder how in our decision to renounce a personal judgement and in our decision to weave a great dream about a different world–a world of good in which evil is as evanescent as wisps of smoke– we suddenly find within ourselves the power to conquer everything, to renew, and to change.

The great awareness on Rosh Hashanah concerning our true mission penetrates deeply, removes all doubt, plunges our sins into the depths of the seas, and we are renewed and become a new creature.  We become as innocent of sin as a baby newly born, free of cynicism or doubt, imbued with faith in G-d and His people, and able to repent with love.

Wonder but from a bird’s-eye view, the Rosh Hashanah liturgy renews in us forces that have weakened with time, builds within us a certainty that it is possible to change the world into an honest and good place.  From this bird’s-eye view, even the sins that we accumulated over the outgoing year are dwarfed. They are put into their true proportions; they are not really ours, and in any case those sins will not be able to stop us from the great change that repentance ushers in.  From this bird’s-eye view Tashlich is oh so justified, and there is no reason for the moon to shine on the sins of Israel. Wonder, but on the day that the world was created G-d decides to renew His faith in humankind upon whom on precisely this day. He designated to be the crown of creation. And if He, Lord of the Universe, believes in us, we can no longer remain in doubt.

When we look at these wonders, it’s impossible not to dip the apple in a wellspring of honey, and to believe that surely the coming year will be good and we will taste from it the taste of honey.  Shana Tova.
Teddy Weinberger, Ph.D., is Director of Development for a consulting company called Meaningful.   He made aliyah with his family in 1997 from Miami, where he was an assistant professor of religious studies. Teddy and his wife, Sarah Jane Ross, have five children. 

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