Sunday, September 25, 2016

Elul Tools 2016 - 23 Elul 5776

 Elul Tools  

Building a Strong Foundation 
for the Days of Awe

Shofar Blast 
(press the arrow below)

Today's Elul Chai-Ku:

Regrets, misdeeds flow
seaward. Gone now. I am free
to begin anew.

23 Elul—Tashlich:  Casting Off 
What We Don’t Want

As we approach Rosh Hashanah, it helps to envision the coming year as a journey. All great voyages require some planning and forethought, including what to bring. In terms of our lives, which things (behaviors, attitudes, ideas, perspectives) do we want with us in the New Year? What should be on our checklist? Right alongside what TO bring is considering what NOT to bring. What could weigh us down? What might create problems? What pesky habits, harmful behaviors, troublesome experiences from this past year should we leave behind? Which mistakes and transgressions got us off track? How can we “unpack” them and make sure they don’t accompany us on the trip?

Wouldn’t it be nice to bundle up all our sins, all those ways we missed the mark last year, and just leave them behind? Fortunately Judaism provides us with precisely this opportunity during Rosh Hashanah. The beautiful, ingenious process of letting go of unwanted “junk” from the past year is known as Tashlich. Translated as “You will cast...” Tashlich is usually performed as a community in the afternoon on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. This ritual gives us the opportunity to symbolically cast off our “sins” by throwing bits of bread into a body of flowing water.

At the root of our “sins” are bad habits, harmful behaviors, intolerant attitudes. Tashlich allows us to toss all of that into the ocean, a river, a creek, any living body of water. We fill our pockets with small pieces of bread. One by one we start letting all the struggles, the mistakes, the hurts, the challenges of our past year, drop into the flowing waters.

Our Sages teach us that the water must be alive and moving. This provides us with the cleansing transformation we are seeking. Recall that water in Judaism is often referred to as Mayiim Chayiim, which means living or life giving waters. The flowing currents take away our sins, which are then processed and transformed by the inherent purifying properties of flowing water. Tashlich allows us to empty ourselves of unwanted behaviors. Additionally, the process of doing this into a body of cleansing water, creates space for new life and growth within us.

Tashlich is a powerful exercise because we are DOING something. So much of our preparation during Elul is internal and involves THINKING. At last we can take all our soul searching, our deep thoughts about who we have been in the past year, and turn it into a tangible action. It may seem that this is only a symbolic act. Yet when our bodies, senses, thoughts, and feelings are engaged, subtle change occurs--something is integrated, deeply. Change is possible.

There is additional power and meaning if this ritual is done with a community. Again we see that “to err is human.” Everyone gets off track. Everyone has stuff they want to leave behind, to cast into the water. Tashlich is a concrete step toward getting ourselves back on track.

Today’s Elul Tool: Think about the sins/midsdeeds you would like to leave behind from the past year. What mistakes would you like to chuck into the sea? Which transgressions would you like to see flow away, downstream in the river? What callous behaviors would you like to wash away? Naming our sins specifically, in preparation for casting them off, helps ensure they won't follow us into the new year. Make a check list of the things you DO NOT want to take with you as you journey forth into 5777 (the new Jewish year). This should be an actual list. No need for explanations or rationalizations. Just a simple list.  Keep this list handy. If you either attend a Tashlich service on Rosh Hashanah, or find a place to do this ritual privately, it’s nice to prepare yourself ahead of time. That way you can cast concrete, specific sins and transgressions, rather than general crumbs of regret into the water.

Note:  Tashlich is pronounced Ta-shleech, with the guttural, throat sound at the end. This sound does not exist in English but is the same sound as in Bach (the composer).

Psalm 27

It is customary to read Psalm 27 twice daily during Elul.
Here is an online version of Psalm 27 for easy access. 

For Families and Kids!

Junior Tool Box:

Discuss the concept of Tashlich with your children. Talk about how water has the ability to cleanse and purify our mistakes.

Consider taking your family to Tashlich services (usually the first day of Rosh Hashanah afternoon) OR make a plan to perform Tashlich as a family. Children REALLY like this process. It is a tangible way for them to be involved in the renewal this time of year offers.

There are many other Tashlich related activities for children. These are nice activities to do in preparation for the actual ritual of Tashlich. One idea is to have each member of the family write down all the mistakes and misdeeds they have committed in the past year. Do this on one piece of white paper with WASHABLE markers. When the page is full place the paper in a tub or large bin of water. The words in marker will begin to run and blur.  Explain that this is how Tashlich works. Water is cleansing. It has the power to wash away things that get in the way of us being better people.

There are two great books about Tashlich for children.  See info below:

New Year at the Pier 
by April Halprin

For ages five and up

Tashlich at Turtle Rock 
by Susan Schnur and Anna Schnur-Fishman

For ages five and up

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