Friday, September 27, 2019 /27 Elul, 5779
Parashat Nitzavim Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20
After an uplifting day of Rosh Hashanah worship, I gathered at the edge of a stream with my temple community. I looked to my right at by son, who was then four years old, and clinging on my every word. I explained that we were about to take part in the Jewish ritual of tashlich, casting our sins into the water. As we began this new year, we had the opportunity to let go of past wrongs. This year, we promised to do better.
People handed out pieces of bread and rolls as I joked about the kind of bread that should be used for each sin. For ordinary sins, use white bread. For twisted sins, use a pretzel. For sins committed in haste, use matzah. For arson, use toast. People had a good laugh, enjoying a moment of levity. Then each individual went to the edge of the water, silently contemplated their year, and dropped their bread into the water. As this was going on Noam began to cry. My husband took him aside to talk to him.
When we got to the car, I asked him why he was so upset. “You were using bread, mommy,” he said. “Yes,” I replied. “It’s the tradition to throw breadcrumbs into the water on Rosh Hashanah.”
Tears started forming in his eyes once more.
“Noam, why are you so upset?” I asked.
“On Rosh Hashanah, we are supposed to say sorry for the bad things we did, right mom?”
“Yes,” I said.
“And we promise to be better this year, right?”
“Yes,” I said again.
“On a day when we are trying to be better, why would we hurt fish and birds?” he said. “Mommy, the bread isn’t good for them!”
When I got home I looked it up immediately. Not only was the bread void of nutrition for birds and fish alike, but if any bread lingered in the water, it would grow a mold that was toxic to these creatures. I have never used bread for tashlich since.
That was the day that my son, at four years old, taught me to be more thoughtful about the environment.
On Monday, we will be joining together as a community for tashlich at 5 pm. Instead of paper, we will be using dissoluble paper on which we will write our sins. May we inspire one another to always do better.
Rabbi Cassi Kail