Baal Shem Tov, or Besht — the founder of Chasidism —
Tashlikh bim'tsulot hayam kol chatotam – You will cast into the depths of the sea all of their sins!
The practice of Tashlikh comes from a time when no one could imagine that human acts could deplete entire oceans. The vastness of the sea, its capacity to receive and transform, to cleanse all, to breakdown and replenish, this is what we evoke in Tashlikh ~ something that Walt Whtiman also wrote about in Leaves of Grass:
Now our appetites consume whole species of fish, though fish are our model and metaphor for unimaginable fecundity. Industries kill off reefs; oil spills entire coastlines. Our ways of agriculture wash ages of good soil into the ocean, along with pesticides and manure. The greatest earthly symbol of the infinite is reaching its limits in our generation.
Can we still recite Tashlikh, throw our bread into the water, without remembering that our sins literally spill into the ocean? If only our sins could be transformed so simply by rituals, but it doesn't work that way. We need to acknowledge this reality in our Tashlikh liturgy. A suggested addition:
One could also add emphasis to the following line from the traditional Tashlikh: "They will not harm and they will not ruin or destroy anywhere in My mount of holiness, for [they will understand that] the Earth is filled with knowing YHVH, like the waters are covering the sea" (Isaiah 11:9). As in,
The Whitman quote comes from a section in Leaves of Grass titled "This Compost" (see the continuation of the poem below). A broader question about tashlikh we could ask is this: in what ways could t'shuvah be like composting? How can our t'shuvah be regenerative for the Earth, for all Life, and not just for our own lives? Composting turns what people think of as waste into soil. In fact it was never really waste -- food scraps can always become food for other creatures and source material for rich soil. Unless of course you mix the food scraps with poisons, as we do in our landfills. There's so much more to say on this in the future, but just asking the questions can be generative.
The quote from Leaves of Grass comes from "This Compost". The poem continues:
...That all is clean forever and forever,This dimension of the earth's abundance, the constancy of purification and regeneration, is what is threatened by our environmental sins. Not in the ultimate sense, for the earth will always regenerate life where its possibility exists, but threatened as far as our (and other mammals') ability to be part of the cycle of abundance.
Design in progress © Rabbi David Mevorach Seidenberg 2006