Rosh Hashanah, which falls in September or October, is the Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashanah begins the High Holidays, a period of reflection which includes the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur. On Rosh Hashanah, Jews celebrate the new year, but we also think about our lives and the direction in which we are heading. Judaism teaches that the new year is the time to begin to fix our mistakes, to apologize and to forgive others.
Dealing with our wrongdoings and asking forgiveness does not seem to have anything to do with fly fishing, that is until you participate in the ritual of Tashlich. Both fly fishing and tashlich take place on the water. They each involve casting. Both are also cleansing for our souls.
The word tashlich means “to cast out” and refers to a short service that takes place on the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah. The congregation travels to a body of water. Together they stand and read this verse from the prophet Micah: “He (God) will take us back in love. He will cover up our iniquities. You will cast all of our sins into the depths of the sea.” Then each person throws breadcrumbs, representing our wrongdoings, into the water. By casting the crumbs into the sea, we symbolically rid ourselves of the errors of the past and we resolve to act better in the year to come.
Taschlich happens in all sorts of places. In my congregation we go to a beautiful grassy area on the harbor. We look out at the sailboats and the light waves of the ocean, and we cast our breadcrumbs out to the ducks, who greedily partake of our offering. Taslich can take place at any body of water. Jews in New York City go to the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges to cast their wrongs into the East River. If you do not live near the ocean or a river, you can do taschlich on a pond or even a mikveh, the Jewish ritual bath.
During tashlich, there is casting, but without a fly fishing rod. With bread on the water, the fish and ducks come to feed. One of my readers remembers doing tashlich on the Farmington River in Connecticut, with the trout rising to the bread crumbs. Maybe casting crumbs into a river is the best way to fly fish, since the trout get to eat without fear and we feel better for throwing our wrongs away.
One time during the ceremony, a child asked me: “Rabbi, isn’t it bad for the ducks and fish to eat our sins?” I replied that when we do something wrong, it hurts others. But when we throw the breadcrumbs into the water, they are not bad anymore. Now they are feeding the animals. Just like the wrongs that became food for the fish, when we apologize and try to fix our mistakes, we turn our bad deeds into good things in the world.
One of my readers reports that whenever his wife feels that he really needs to go fly fishing and get out of the house, she says to him: “Go do taschlich.” This wise woman knows that taschlich and fly fishing can accomplish the same purpose: they help us recharge, feel refreshed, and perhaps even cleanse our souls. Even if I do not get a single bite in a day of fly fishing, I still relish the time spent on the water, with only the fish, the trees and the sounds of the river. When I return home, I feel that I took a break from the world and found some peace and perspective.
So this year on Rosh Hashanah, when I go to do taschlich, I’ll probably be wishing that I had my Orvis rod with me. I may wonder how big the bass are near the shore. And I’ll think about how to tie a fly that looks like a breadcrumb. But when I cast my crumbs into the water, I will also reflect on how to transform my own wrongdoings into good. I will think about how I will act in the New Year. And I will cast my mistakes into the sea, and begin the new year with the intent of becoming a better person.
My best wishes for a happy, healthy and sweet new year,
The Fly Fishing Rabbi, Eric Eisenkramer