Who is a G-d like you,
And sending away evil?
G-d will take us back in love;
You will cover up our wrongs,
You will hurl all our sins
Into the deep of the sea.
Forever, G-d, your word stands firm in heaven.
While doing research on Tashlich last night I happened upon a tribute web site to Dick Israel, the person who composed the humorous bread list that has made its way around the net. He died last year and there were several pictures of him on the web site. He was doing very normal things like attending a birthday party or looking awkward in front of the camera – things we all have done and will continue to do. For some reason, seeing these photos really brought September 11th into a different kind of focus for me. I realized we will soon start to see a plethora of images and stories of those who did not survive. Each of these people has a face. Each of these people has an unfinished story.
But what is your story? How much of what you have written in the last year and how much of what you will write in the coming year are you willing to take responsibility for?
This Tashlich today is not a memorial for the victims of September 11th. We are not here to decide who to shake our fists at. If we do that right now we are cheating ourselves of a special and personal opportunity to examine our own lives. We should not avoid this awesome task. Determining how we want to conduct our own lives is even more important in light of recent (and probably continuing) turmoil in the world. We do this by examining who we have been and deciding how much of that we want to carry forth into the next year.
As always this is an intimidating task. How can any of us talk to ourselves or God and confront the knowledge that we probably won’t be able to act perfectly in the coming year? The answer, and this is not cheating, is to remember that we have the power to improve ourselves: we can act better this year than we did last year. Each year we can and should bring ever more goodness into the world.
But even that may seem like too arduous of a task. Let’s face it, we are all very tired from grappling with so much senseless death and are all stretched very thin from simultaneously comforting ourselves and our friends. But the help we each need is here around us. There is a cycle to Jewish observance that wonderfully weaves together the public and the private, the communal and the individual and today I think we need that tapestry more than ever. This is public in that we see each other here and soon will see each other walk individually toward the water. This is private in that your thoughts, your wishes, your commitments, and your whispered words are only your own. But our public witnessing makes your private commitment into a contract not only with God but also with the community as a whole. I want it to strengthen you to know that you are not upholding your commitment all by yourself. The other parties to this contract, God and our community are also upholding the commitment to make next year a better year. We are in this together. The subject of your intentions is private but the actions you take as a result of today’s intentions are public. We are in this together.
Now we begin Tashlich. Take yourself down to the water’s edge. Try making a list of things that you are unhappy about, such as actions you regret taking, attachments, resentments, and obsessions. Find yourself a private spot (or as private as you can get) and as you recite each listed item, cast a crumb into the water to carry it away. When you are done, I suggest you create for yourself some kind of closing ceremony: perhaps a personal prayer, a favorite remembered poem, the hug of a friend, or a final promise.
With Rosh Hashanah we start to recognize all of whom and what we are. Today we start to decide how we wish to change ourselves for the better. We are in this together.