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Tradition & Innovation

At-Home Tashlikh Ritual

water rippling

Preparation

We come into the world after having floated for nine months in an inland sea. Water covers 71 percent of the Earth's surface; the oceans hold 96 percent of it and the rest is found in rivers, lakes, icecaps, glaciers, in the ground as soil moisture, in the air as water vapor, and in all living beings.

As infants we’re 75% water. In childhood, 65%. As adults we range from around 55% to 60% water. Our brains and heart are 73% water. Our lungs are 83% water. Our skin is 64%, our muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even our bones are 31% water.

In other years we and our ancestors have stood beside lakes and streams, by rivers and at the ocean, to perform the ritual of Tashlikh, which means “casting off” in Hebrew, and invites us to symbolically cast off from the previous year our wrongdoings, to release the ways in which we know we missed the mark. 

The practice seems to have begun in Europe in the Middle Ages, inspired by this image from the book of the prophet Micah, that God “will hurl all of our sins into the depths of the seas.” Over time it became a tradition for people to do Tashlikh on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, or the second day if it falls on Shabbat, and it can be done until the last day of Sukkot.

In many places people bring bread with them to cast upon the water. In other places people crumble up leaves that they cast in, or turn inside-out their pockets to cast forth the lint within.

But how do we follow this custom, this practice, in a time when some of us may be able to stand by a moving body of water, but most of us will be participating in the holidays through flat rectangular spaces?

In the invitation to do Tashlikh this year, I invite you to do this ritual standing in front of your toilet (or simply using a bowl of water). All that you’ll need beyond your willingness to go on this novel journey is a roll of toilet paper and something to write on it with.

Practice

Standing in your bathroom, notice your breath as you quiet yourself. Place your hands over your heart. Close your eyes, deepen into your body, and feel that you came here from an inland sea, and that you are still today mostly water. Feel it pumped and surging and moving within you as you breathe.

Now deepen further into yourself, into your heart, your mind, and into all of your cells. And ask yourself this simple and yet difficult question, the answer or answers to which may be completely clear to you from your journey through Elul, or perhaps not – “What am I carrying from our collective past and from my own past in the previous year that feels wrong to me, and that I am now ready to release?” If it’s meaningful to you, you may want to sit on the floor of your bathroom to do this.

There may be wrongdoings that you still don’t feel ready to let go of. But you are now invited to take your roll of toilet paper out of its holder, and jot down everything that comes to mind where you missed the mark since Rosh Hashanah last year. You may want to write each wrongdoing on a separate square, but in this time of scare resources in our damaged world, you are invited to write as much as you can on one square. Hopefully your list won’t be too long.

Now go over your list. Is there anything that you want to addt? Anything you don’t feel ready to let go of, that you can cross off on your list? 

When you are ready, tear off the square or squares that you’ve written on, and put the roll of toilet paper back in its holder. The ink from what you wrote may have leaked into the square or squares below. Our actions are like this. They may spread out beyond themselves. But with sincerity, these inner and outer marks will vanish too, over time.

Hold your list over your heart and as you review your year and everything on your list, feel your breath rising and falling in your body, and read your list again, knowing that you are ready to energetically let go of everything on it. If something occurs to you at the last moment, write it down! And breathe.

Standing before your open toilet or bowl of water, gaze down into the water, feeling that you are mostly water yourself, and that all water is one, wherever we find it. You floated for nine months on an inland sea before you landed on solid ground, and into this receiving water before you, you are about to release your list of things that you are sorry for and are ready to let go of.

Holding your list in hand, read through it one more time, and then when you are ready, crumple it up in your hand, take a very deep breath, and as you exhale – toss the crumpled square or squares into the toilet or bowl of water – and flush – as you exhale – releasing from your body and your mind everything on your list.

Now, thank the water for receiving your list. Thank your public utility service for receiving and transmuting your list. Thank yourself for taking this opportunity to lighten your load. Now, put your hands back on your heart, and bow to what you have just done, and back away from your toilet and step out of the bathroom and back into your day. (You may leave the toilet seat up or down, if you have one, as is your personal custom.)

Shanah tovah!

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