Tahslich, Judaism at the Water's Edge

    Seoptember 2010 High Holydays            
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Tashlich - an eco-logical...

ByJane Bichmacher de Glasman* ©

In the first day of Rosh Hashanah, when it does not coincide with Shabbat, the ritual of Tashlich is performed. It consists of going, a short while before sunset, to a place where there is current natural water (lakes, rivers or sea) and also fish. There, we meditate, recite some psalms and agitate symbolically the corners of the clothes. Some people throw in the water bread crumbs, which symbolize disintegrated residues of the absences we did during the year that is being closed.

The verses of the prophet Micah (especially 7:19), recited in the Tashlich, contains the explanation for the custom: "And you will cast (tashlich) your sins into the depths of the sea".

When the first day of Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat, the Tashlich is said on Sunday, the second day.

Naturally, to shake the corners of the clothes does not shed our sins - but reminds us that we should do a good cleaning within the heart and free him from evil.

The prayer of Tashlich awakes for regret. It reminds us of the fish life insecurity, between the bait danger and the fisherman net. Our life also is full of ambushes and temptations. The fish symbolizes the "always vigilant eye" of God: as a fish do not have eyelids, its eyes are always open. Therefore, if nothing can be hidden from God, in the other hand we can obtain boldness and hope from the faith in him, as He never sleeps.

Water in Hebrew is Mayim, word present in Shamayim that means heavens, because we want that our prayer arrive there, for the above and under waters reunion, as in the beginning of the Creation.

In Medieval Time, Tashlich was many times used to accuse Jews of bewitching or poisoning the water and rabbis had to prohibit Tashlich observance by their communities, since it threatened their lives.

People associate the ritual of Tashlich with "throwing away" - incorrect idea, under an "eco-kosher" perspective. Today we know that is impossible to throw anything away, outside, because the "outside" does not exist. Instead, we cast our mistakes or transgressions to be neutralized, to become biodegradable, so this way they should be able to be recycled without causing pollution. Thinking about each mistake that symbolically is thrown into the waters, thinking about what we learned with it, we are able to "recycle", transforming it in potential for positive actions.

Water is part of Jewish rituals of purification, as the immersion baths in the mikveh, for example, that we take before Shabbat or festivals.

In Rosh Hashanah, water symbolizes the environment in which we recycle situations or relationships not solved until the beginning of the New Year.

The tear is our emotion recycled through water.

Through the Tashlich, we follow a reverse way to that of Narcissus, who in the myth falls in love with his own image: we throw into the water shards of our broken heart, which are its imperfections, as forms of re-being entire, complete. In Shalom, whose root means it: entire, perfect. And "nothing is more entire than a broken heart..."

* Jane Bichmacher de Glasman is a writer, Ph.D. in Hebrew Language, Jewish Literatures and Culture, Creator and former-director of the Program of Jewish Studies at State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ), Professor and coordinator of the Department of Hebrew Studies at UERJ and UFRJ (retired).

Published in Visão Judaica 72, September 2008 (in Portuguese).


from the September 2010 High Holyday Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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