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Vayeilech

October 3, 2019
4 Tishrei 5780

Parashat Vayeilech
Deuteronomy 31:1 - 31:30

We look forward to seeing you on Yom Kippur!  With wishes for a happy and sweet New Year, from our Tehillah family to yours.

You can still buy tickets for Yom Kippur online at https://www.congregationtehillah.org/high-holy-days.html.  If you have any difficulty purchasing tickets through the website, please contact Susan Goldman at susansara1@aol.com or Kathy Schreiner at kathyjny@gmail.com. You can also call Kathy at (646) 229-9336.

Dear Friends,

This Shabbat is Shabbat Shuva, the Shabbat of turning or repentance. I want to share an experience that began this process for a number of us. There is a new ritual afoot, or rather, a reworking of one (tashlich) that has been with us since the thirteenth century. Tashlich is the practice of throwing bread into a body of water to represent all we have done wrong in the past year, and is traditionally done on the first day of Rosh Hashanah.

This ritual echoes earlier practices by the Jews of Babylonia, who sent containers out into the water containing their “sins." The Talmud describes the custom of growing beans or peas for a few weeks before the New Year in a woven basket - one for each child in a family. The basket was swung around the head of the child seven times and then flung into the water.

In spite of the earlier practices, the rabbis were not particularly fond of the practice of throwing bread into the water. They deemed it a superstitious act, one far from the process of making amends or doing teshuvah.

But the need for people to do something physical to reflect the process they were embarking upon during these Days of Awe could not be forestalled. Interestingly, the notion of water as a purifying agent was most clearly exemplified by Kurdistani Jews, who threw themselves into water and swam around to be cleansed of a year’s worth of wrongdoing.

With all of this water-related activity, the rabbis connected the activity to midrashim (stories) around Abraham and more clearly as symbolic of the creation of the world and all of life. They used Biblical references to water where purification was the objective, water as a cleansing agent being a very potent medium.

Growing up, tashlich was something we did on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where Jews of all stripes would gather as we cast our bread into the Hudson River. We all worshipped in different sanctuaries, yet in this act we came together as one. It’s true each synagogue's leader led each group, but we were still together doing the same thing for the same reason.

Over the past number of years, keeping environmental concerns in mind more and more, groups doing tashlich have stopped throwing bread. This year, we joined them. We too threw pebbles into the water as we stood beside the pond. Even those who brought bread didn’t throw it in – to the disappointment of the fish who seemed to know why we were there.

Everyone present was asked to think about a way in which they had missed the mark over the past year. Instead of everyone throwing in their single pebble at the same time, people lined up one by one and threw their pebble into the water. The result was extremely moving. Each pebble created a ripple, much like when you skip a stone across water. Unlike the bread, which was eaten or fell to the bottom of the pond, the ripples in the water gave us pause. Watching the ripples, we were reminded of how our actions do not simply sink to the bottom by themselves; rather they cause things to happen. The moment was deepened as we sang a niggun while each individual stepped forward. We were made aware in no uncertain terms that our actions had consequences, whether we were aware of them or not. Instead of being a ritual that the rabbis of old could negate, here was a ritual that opened the door to repentance and made each of us present aware that we were not alone and that what we did had an effect on the world around us. Our very presence in the world creates ripples; our actions and behaviors create even more.

Wishing you and yours, a year of sweetness, kindness and joy.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Tue, July 14 2020 22 Tammuz 5780