This week’s Torah portion, Ha’azinu (Deut. 32:1-32) is a song of Moses. The Israelites’ journey in the wilderness began with the Song of the Sea as they escaped the Egyptian chariots by a miracle of God. Now, forty years later they stand in the wilderness, poised to enter the Promised Land without Moses, their leader, teacher and intermediary with God.
The haftarah usually matched to this portion is from Second Samuel, a song of gratitude that David sang to God. But when this portion falls, as it often does, on Shabbat Shuvah, the Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we read instead a special haftarah for that day. It is made up of verses from the prophetic books of Hosea, Micah and Joel having to do with repentance and return. In the middle of the haftarah, in Micah 7:19, we read, “You will turn back to us, You will take us back in love/You will subdue our sins and cast them into the depths of the sea – v’tashlich bimtzulot yam kol chatotam.”
This verse has inspired a centuries-old Jewish custom, called “Tashlich’, “casting”. On the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah, we go to a body of water, recite this verse, and throw breadcrumbs, representing our sins, into the water.
Of course we know that ridding ourselves of sin is not as easy as throwing a few pieces of stale challah into a lake. But Tashlich is freeing; it is an unburdening. Judaism is largely a religion of words, but this physical act allows us to symbolically separate ourselves from acts which we wish we hadn’t done and to leave them behind (usually to the delight of the ducks) as we begin our year.
May we all begin this year with a clean slate and an open heart. Wishing everyone a new year of health, happiness and peace.