Very soon we will welcome in the Jewish New Year. Rosh HaShanah is officially upon us, and many of us will celebrate with festive meals, apples and honey, round-shaped challah, and many joyous prayers and festivities for the occasion. We will gather with our families and communities to welcome in a spiritual new year.
On the second day of Rosh HaShanah, most communities will honor a custom called Tashlich. This is a ceremony where Jews take small pieces of bread or stones and throw them into a body of water symbolizing the release of “throwing out” their sins. The ceremony is powerful and teaches us an important lesson for our lives.
As teenagers, we are faced with many challenges as we grow up. Peer pressure, relationship issues, figuring out ourselves and all the components that come along with that. For the first time in our lives, we are faced with the choices between good and bad. As children, we are taught by our parents what is right and wrong, and when we do something wrong, we face our consequence by the discipline of our parents. As teenagers, when we make a mistake, we also face the consequences of that mistake, but for the first time, we bear the guilt of the mistake as well.
The age of personal accountability in Judaism is twelve for girls and thirteen for boys. When we go through our bar or bat mitzvah, we are not only taking on the commandments of HaShem for ourselves, but we also take on the personal consequences of sin. The burden of accountability can often be a heavy one to bear, and guilt can often come along with that.
Perhaps you can think of a time in your life when you not just experienced something hurtful and awful, but you were the one committing the awful act. Repenting is an important step, and necessary for redemption, but the consequences of our actions and the shame we feel because of them remain. Take this scenario for example:
A young boy is involved in a bullying incident at school. He’s a good kid and someone who wants friends and wants people to like him. His group of friends isn’t the best group but they like him, and he gets along well enough with them. One day at school he runs into an old friend, but to stay with his new friend group, he says some hurtful words to his old friend. The words sting and hurt his old friend. Alone and feeling betrayed, the kid goes home crying and hurt.
Eventually, the actions of those hurtful words affect him so much that he goes into a depression and leaves school. The friend hears of this, feels awful, repents, leaves his friend group and shows up at the boy’s house to reconcile his actions. While his friend forgives him, he feels so scarred that he cannot return to school. He can barely even look at his friend and feels so ashamed he can hardly maintain a relationship with him, knowing that he hurt him so badly for no reason. The boy feels worse and worse; even while reconciliations happened, he still carries the guilt of his actions.
There are many more examples in our own lives of times when we made mistakes, realized it, repented, but still carry the guilt for our actions. We may even still feel the repercussions of those actions. I’m sure you can think of an example right now in your own life. This is where the beauty of the new year comes in. This is a time of renewal, forgiveness of sin, and a time to turn the page and release the guilt we carry. This is when we trust HaShem to forgive us, and we trust in the compassion of those who have extended forgiveness to us.
The Tashlich ceremony during Rosh HaShanah is the perfect time to not only throw away our sinful actions, but also to release the guilt we carry for those actions. Casting a rock representing our guilt into the water is an incredible symbol of what God does for us. For the Bible tells us that he will throw our sins as far as the east is from the west and remember them no more (Psalm 103:12).
Our God is the God of forgiveness, the God of compassion, and the God who desires good and happiness for us. Carrying guilt throughout our lives is not what HaShem wants for us. He provides for us seasons and holidays to renew our spirit and give over the burden of guilt.
May you each have a bright, happy new year and may you each take a moment during the holiday to embrace renewal and give over your burdens to the God of all creation.