The celebration of Rosh HaShanah (or Yom Teruah) contains an interesting tradition. Jewish people take themselves to the sea, or any body of flowing water, and symbolically cast their sins, in the form of bread or crackers, into the water to be carried away. This is called “tashlich” which means “cast off.” The Tashlich ceremony uses the Scripture:
He will again have compassion on us. He will subdue our iniquities, and You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. (Mic 7:19, TLV)
Since Rosh Chodesh Elul, many of us have been reflecting on our lives, examining our hearts, and repenting of our sins. Here on the first day of the month of Tishrei, we have an opportunity to put into practice an important part of walking out our repentance: what do we do with those sins that we have repented of?
Let’s look at this from another angle. In a recent Torah portion, the Children of Israel received a statute that seems somewhat weird in our modern lives:
Suppose a man is guilty of a sin with a death sentence and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree. His body is not to remain all night on the tree—instead you must certainly bury him the same day. (Deu 21:22-23, TLV)
To us this seems obvious. Why would you leave a corpse hanging out there for all the people to have to look at? But throughout history this was a common practice—the Romans left the people they crucified along roads and byways as a fear tactic. Kings and armies have placed the bodies of their vanquished enemies on display to send the message of their victory. And we—well, we let our sins that we have supposedly put to death continue to hang around.
The life of repentance is a process of putting to death the “old man” as we read in the Apostolic Scriptures:
Therefore, put to death what is earthly in you—sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed—for that is idolatry. (Col 3:5, TLV)
…knowing our old man was crucified with Him so that the sinful body might be done away with, so we no longer serve sin. (Rom 6:6, TLV)
Unfortunately, there are two ways that we fail to “bury the dead body.” Sometimes we keep that dead corpse of a sin around because we never completely let go of it; and later we bring it out and revive it! We return to the sin because we kept it around instead of getting rid of it. Bury that corpse of your “evil desire” and do not allow it to return. When we play around with our “zombie” sin, we end up in a “Walking Dead” situation… fighting our own personal zombies… again!
At other times, we fail to bury the corpse of our sins because we do not forgive ourselves. Our loving Father has forgiven us; He tells us that He has forgotten our sins if we have repented.
I, I am the One who blots out your transgressions for My own sake, and will not remember your sins. (Isa 43:25, TLV)
But we can hold onto the shame and, when we do that, the sin hangs there, like a dead albatross around our necks. That sin may be dead, but it drags on our lives and keeps us from moving forward and growing spiritually.
We must bury the corpse, as soon as possible. After we’ve repented, we must take that sin and cast it off, to be carried away on the waters. Symbolically, we remove it from our lives, and from our sight, so that we can no longer revive its dead body and it no longer weighs us down with its shame.
So come join us on Rosh HaShanah, after our morning service, as we go to a place with flowing water and “bury the dead.” L’Shanah tova!
Originally published Sep 17, 2020