Tashlich

Composition and audio © Alexander Massey Sept 2014

At Rosh Hashanah, the celebration of the new year, the whole community is encouraged to a place of flowing water, and to cast away pieces of bread. This is to symbolise casting off our sins, and it is a time of joy. The text associated with the Tashlich ritual is:

 וְתַשְׁלִיךְ בִּמְצֻלוֹת יָם, כָּל חַטֹּאותָם

Tashlich bimtzulot yam kol chatotam.

“Hurl into the depths of the sea all our [lit. ‘their’] sins.” (Micah 7:19)

So what could be happening in this gentle, seemingly playful Tashlich ritual to give it meaning and substance? After all, we don’t seriously think that we can walk away from the wrongs we have done. The teaching in the Talmud is clear that at Yom Kippur, atonement in relation to God comes through honest acknowledgement of sins, followed by prayer, returning to God, and making right all that we can. Atonement between people is achieved only by making repair with the person who has been wronged. (Mishnah Yoma 87a) As part of our t’shuvah, our returning to God and our better selves, we are encouraged to do cheshbon hanefesh – give an account of our soul. This is done:

  • in the regular practice of mussar (spiritual discipline for developing ethical qualities)
  • at bedtime prayer (a daily ‘audit’)
  • during Elul  – the month when we reflect on where we have ‘missed the mark’ and wronged others, and then ask forgiveness and take concrete action to make reparation where we can
  • at Rosh Hashanah, and at Yom Kippur, when we consider and confess all the many ways we have turned away from God, and make a conscious effort (physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually) to return.

T’shuvah, as well as reconciliation with those people we have wronged, are both achieved through inner work and practical action. Whilst taking responsibility for our actions, it is important that we recognize that we are not just our actions, but also an agent. Tashlichis a physical and psychological marker to remind us that we can change, that we can (and must) acknowledge, apologise, repair (where we can), not repeat our mistakes, let go of the burden of guilt, shame and paralysis, learn, move forward, and become better – and do better. This music is an invitation to sing – and move – with vigour and joy, to build the energy to do the work of t’shuvah towards those around us, and towards God.

The music of this Tashlich chant

This is a simple 2 part round based on a scale associated with the Yishtabach mode. The rhythms, and the gaps after ‘tashlich’ each time in the second part are intended to give the feeling of a short, sharp movement, as if hurling something away. I imagine people involving as much as possible of their bodies whilst singing this, and have created a simple circle dance to go with this chant (available with the sheet music for Tashlich).

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