The Custom of Tashlich

Written by Charles Stalsworth. Posted in Teachings.

Background Information

It is customary in Jewish tradition to cast bread crumbs or rocks into a body of water during Rosh Hashanah as a way of “symbolically” throwing away our sinful natures while making the resolution to do better in the coming year. The practice is based on Ecclesiastes 11:1, “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again” and Micah 7:19, “you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”

Ancient teachers in Judaism taught in parables. Our Messiah used parables to teach but even his disciples did not understand because they were “dull of Spirit,” which meant they were not always aware of what was going on around them. Unless you are thoroughly aware of Jewish laws and customs, you are going to misinterpret the verse above about “casting your bread upon the water” and do something very “silly,” meaning you won’t know what you are doing and showing you don’t know your Creator very well either.

All parabolic teaching is meant to hint about one thing and one thing only. That is why, in Jewish writings, a series of parables will be told, one after another, and they are then called “a string of pearls,” which is a Hebrew idiom for a series of parables that are all about one theme. The theme can be about “Joy” or “Wise use of resources.” So, “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again” is a “parable” about “wise use of resources.”

The Western mindset and English translations all combine to make us as believers “dull of spirit” but remember you can be dull of spirit and still be a disciple. Bread in the Bible is not always bread as you know it, but if you were someone that lived in Solomon’s time, you would probably know what this parable meant because the King would have taught you. People at that time were taught to eat parched grain to remove the husk and fresh grain rubbed between the hands to remove the husk and winnowed grain to remove the husk and that grain was then ground so that it could be baked into loaves. These all constituted “bread” that was used to maintain life.

“Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” In Matthew 4:4, Yeshua quotes this verse from Torah, Deuteronomy 8:3, when contending with the serpent that suggested that He turn rocks into bread simply because He was hungry (immediate gratification).

The serpent words are like the husks in life and they must be removed by verifying everything against the Torah, which is the bread of life. In John 6:8, Yeshua verifies Torah is like bread when he feeds the masses with five loaves, one loaf for each book of Torah and two fishes referring to the two Talmudic Messiahs, Ben Joseph and Ben David.

So grain was a valued resource or a commodity for life. Some was to be eaten and some was to be “saved” to plant for the next year’s harvest. If you ate it all, you would have nothing left to plant. Today’s society wants “immediate gratification” so they don’t save much for the future, which is not “wise use of resources.”

Now we will turn to the second part of the parable by asking what water are we to cast our bread upon?

There is much talk about the early rains and the latter rains but few understand it in a parabolic way. The early rains, in Israel, come in October / November to loosen up the sun baked soil. With the coming of the first of the early rains the plowman would plow furrows, which would fill with rain water and by faith, the sower would cast the grain upon the waters and after many days, the harvester would come to harvest. Then he would have to divide the new grain wisely because, in it was stored the future.

Origins of Tashlich

The origins behind the ritual called “Tashlich” make for a fascinating study into early origins of what is not the Jewish faith. An in depth study on this subject might help to further enrich the meaning of “our own” High Holy day practices and experience as Messianics.

First of all, the word “Tashlich” literally means “cast off” and its usage as a name for the Rosh Hashanah ritual of going to a body of water and casting crumbs of bread is rooted in the Hebrew text from the prophet. (Micah 7:18-20)

“You will cast all (cast off) their sins into the depths of the sea.”

But to discover the true origins of the ancient ritual, we have to go back to the earliest beginnings of The Children of Israel as a people and its beliefs.  But the ritual isn’t only about casting the bread or pebbles into water; it’s also about the water!

“When God began to create the heavens and the earth, the world was unformed and chaotic, and the spirit of God moved across the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:1-2)  That is how the Torah begins, by portraying the Divine Presence in close proximity to the water.  Early Hebrews took over, from even earlier religious cultures, the belief that prayers recited near water are more effective, and can reach God more readily than at other places. 

Jewish literature is latterly filled with references to sacred wells of water and of solemn or important events taking place near a river or a well, of temples built at the site of a well, of houses of prayer erected near water, of special ceremonies performed near the water, to occasional prayers offered at a place near water.

The Biblical prophets, Ezekiel and Joel each had a vision of rivers of water coming forth from the Temple Mount in the future, in Messianic times.  And perhaps even when the people sat (al naharot Bavel), by the waters of Babylon, weeping and crying to God, that also reflecting the popular belief being that if you wanted to be close to God, even in exile, find a place of water! Psalm 137:1  In another place, the Psalmist wrote: “The voice of the LORD is upon the waters, the God of Glory thunders… over the mighty waters.” (Psalm 29:3)

The custom of Tashlich is observed wherever there are Jewish people. The Sephardim and the Ashkenazim, who had been separated from one another by continents and centuries, all observe Tashlich. There is, on the other hand, no mention of this tradition in Talmud or other Rishonim. The earliest printed reference to Tashlich is in the Maharil but he does not say who instituted the practice but only that it is a Jewish custom.  

Tashlich appears to be a manifestation of Israel’s genius to devise ways of “perfecting” itself in the service of The Creator. So what can I say but the national “Soul” of Israel has its ways of determining how to draw closer to the service of its’ God. Such are the manners and customs of the Jewish people.

Searching Out the Hidden One

There is more “hidden meaning” behind this practice than is readily apparent. In fact, our Savior and future King is not only hidden in the Tanakh but He is also hidden in the manners and customs of the Jewish people everywhere. I remember how astonished I was when I found Him hidden in the “Passover” and in the “Jewish Wedding.” It is no wonder that the Creator should be found everywhere in His creation but it seems that he is also hidden in the customs of them that don’t even acknowledge Him.

There are those that want to dismiss that He could also be found in Jewish extra biblical observances such as Hanukkah and Tashlich. I have learned to think for myself, because of something I was taught years ago, by a man that taught at Hebrew University in Israel. His statement went something like this, “It does not matter what the Jewish people thought about the Messiah. If they thought that He would be purple with yellow poke dots, nothing is too hard for God.”

While outlandish, his statement is still true to this very day. “Nothing is too hard for God.” If a believer in the Creator wanted the sun to stand still for a day and that was not too hard for Him to do, what if a believer wanted to cast rocks from his pockets at Rosh Hashanah symbolizing him working to get rid of his sin. Is that acceptable to God? Isn’t that better than not doing anything? Does the scripture say, “for by Grace you have been saved through faithfulness; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

Can I rid myself of my sin by casting them into the sea? The answer is “no” but God can and He said He would, in Micah 7:19 but until He does, is there anything that demonstrates our faith in Messiah Yeshua more than Tashlich.  From a messianic perspective, this practice opens up our minds to the revelation of Yeshua.

Isaiah 57:20 says, “the wicked are like the tossing sea,” and Jude 13 says that evil men “are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame.”  Symbolically casting rocks as sins into the water is reminiscent of The Sea, the location of both wicked people and of wicked deeds. 

The rocks, which represent our sins in this world, symbolically portray the work of Yeshua, who made Himself to be a sacrifice on our behalf. Yeshua is not sin, but he is the sin sacrifice who provides atonement for us. Yeshua, as the sin sacrifice, conquers willful sin and wickedness. Yeshua says in Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22, and Luke 22:19 that the bread is his body. John 6:33 says, “for the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world,” and in verse 35, Yeshua states, “I am the bread of life.” 

Yeshua, the bread of life, has dominion over the sea, (symbolically wickedness) and He acts out his authority in Matthew 14:25 when he walks out to his disciples on the water. He can walk on the water and not sink. When we are operating under the power of his spirit, we can have dominion over the wickedness of life as well. 

Therefore, casting grain or bread into the sea represents getting rid of our sinful natures, which is possible through the atoning work of Yeshua. The second part of Ecclesiastes 11:1 that says the bread will return to us symbolizes the Word we spread through our every day witness that will return a spiritual harvest.  So in conclusion we say “To cast or not to cast, that is the question.” We are to cause jealousy. I have already been told, “the Sabbath is not for me, so what if I start to do Tashlich?


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