Saturday, September 19, 2009

Tashlikh: Exodus from Sin

[A Full-Metal Jacket Tashlikh in Iraq - sin is powerless against the armor of faith!]

My congregation, Kol Ami, just observed the ritual of Tashlikh following Rosh ha-Shanah morning services. In this ceremony, Jews gather outside and symbolically cast away their sins by either throwing bread or dust from their pockets into a natural body of water. Like many rituals in this most ritualized religion, the liturgy is really quite fluid (pardon the pun). There are multiple variant lectionaries, the most common theme being the recitation of verses alluding to water, sins, or ideally, both. The most constant, however, seems to be Micah 7:18-20:

18 Who is a God like you,
who pardons sin and forgives the transgression
of the remnant of His inheritance?
You do not stay angry forever
but delight to show mercy.
19 You will again have compassion on us;
you will tread our sins underfoot
and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.
20 You will be true to Jacob,
and show mercy to Abraham,
as you pledged on oath to our ancestors
in days long ago.

In context this is the conclusion of the Micah oracles, the summary call the repentence. In the context of Tashlikh, this is an inspired choice to be recited at waterside. The opening line echoes Exodus 15:11, Moses' "Song at the Sea," his triumphant paean to God's deliverance of Israel from the Egyptians at the Sea of Reeds. This is well-known to most Jews as Mi-Chamocha, a song that appears repeatedly in the daily liturgy: "Who is like You among the gods, Adonai?..."

Micah makes further artful use of the national deliverance. The words of verse 19 reinforce this, where the enemy is tread underfoot and cast into the sea (compare with Ex. 15:1) - only for Micah it is our own bad choices that pursue us rather than Egyptian chariots. That makes Tashlikh into an internal act of Exodus and a personal memesis of the great redemptive experience of the Jewish people; a moment in which we cross over from enslavement to a limiting past and make our way into the unseen wilderness of the coming year toward what we hope will be a the promised land of a better future.

May all our transgressions disappear as effortlessly as the bread we have cast away this week.

Jewish Prayer: Entering the Palace of the King

Welcome to the Jewish Liturgy Blog. This site is devoted to exploring the worlds of Jewish worship primarily, but not exclusively, through the written liturgy of Jewish siddurim (prayer books) and machzorim (High Holy Day prayer books). I have already written on the topic of Jewish mystical prayer on my companion blog, Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism, but I've wanted to consider the pietistic, devotional, and artistic aspects of Jewish prayers from perspectives beyond the purely mystical or esoteric.

Truthfully, I find many aspects of Jewish prayer inexplicable. I can't give you a clear or logical reason why I pray, yet it is compelling to me. So I am at least going to attempt to talk around the edges of the experience. So I will be gin with a first entry on the liturgy of the Rosh ha-Shanah Tashlikh ritual in my next post.