When my neighbor-friend spotted me, he was finishing a run along the Hudson river and I? I was balanced precariously on some slippery rocks by the water's edge, holding a dinner roll in my hand.
"Hey! Welcome back!" he said, referencing my recent return from vacation.
"Hey! I'm back!" I said, before awkwardly stating the obvious, "I have some bread!" and continuing with a half-truth, "I'm going to throw it in the water!"
"Ok, well...cool. I'm sure the ducks will love it." (generous on his part; there were no ducks in sight)
We made plans to catch up over sushi later, and he continued on his run. I sat down on a flat rock and did what I had come to the river to do, the thing that had seemed too complicated to fully explain: the annual ritual of tashlich.
Tashlich (Hebrew for "you will throw / cast off") usually occurs on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Technically, I was a day early in practice on that Sunday afternoon, but I'm sure the rabbis would be willing to overlook my timing error. Especially in light of the fact that I AM NOT JEWISH. And am therefore not bound to observe this ritual in any way, in the slightest.
Therein lay my hesitation in explaining to my neighbor-friend just what I was doing with a dinner roll clutched in my hand. Just what was I doing with a dinner roll clutched in my hand??
* * *
Sometimes I'll co-opt Jewish traditions or holidays (say, Passover or Hannukah) under the guise that because Jesus celebrated them, so should I. The origins of tashlich, however, are unclear: most likely it's a medieval practice; even if it dates earlier, we still have no textual evidence that Jesus ever participated in the ritual.
And I, as a non-Jew, have no real reason to participate either.
Except that I like tashlich. I just really like it.
There are many takes on tashlich, the most basic being that the bread represents your sin, and by throwing the bread into the water, you are symbolically casting off sin. Then you can observe how the water carries your sin away - much like God does.
My own take on tashlich focuses more on the new year aspect of Rosh Hashanah - a letting-go of the past. Yes, the sin, but also the hurts sustained, the discouragement, the tears. The stuff that can weigh you down if you drag it from one year to the next. And meditating on a God who can make all things new, who can really, truly wipe the slate clean, who says, "You don't have to carry all this by yourself anymore."
So thinking on all that - that's what I was doing with a dinner roll clutched in my hand.
But sometimes, it's just easier to let people think you're feeding the ducks.
* * *
"As I cast this bread upon the watersLift 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 gratitudeRenew my soul as the dew renews the grasses.
And we say together: Amen."