The Power of Water in Judasim

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Tashlich: The Cleansing Power of Water

One of my favorite Jewish rituals is the Tashlich service. Literally, the Hebrew word tashlich means “you will cast away.” During the course of this ritual, Jews cast all their sins into water, an element that is always considered to be spiritually pure. The tashlich service can be either individually or with a group. Ideally the ceremony should be performed on the first day of Rosh Hashanah (unless it falls on Shabbat, as it does this year). However, the ritual can be performed anytime from Rosh Hashanah until the last day of Sukkot.

The Practice of Tashlich

The Tashlich was put into practice during the Middle Ages. The idea originates from a verse from the book of the prophet Micha: “And You will cast into the depths of the sea all their sins.” Verses from Micha, along with other Psalms are read during the course of Tashlich. The service is performed beside a body of water. Generally, any form of running water will do. A person may even perform this ritual in front of running tap water. However, it is more ideal for the ceremony to be performed beside a body of water containing fish. Many people have the custom of casting bread crumbs into water while performing the ritual.

The Spiritual Aspect of Fish

Fish are considered to be some of the holiest animals. Tzaddikim, righteous people, are said to reincarnate as fish. Thus, we perform this ritual near fish so we can learn important spiritual lessons from them. First of all, we learn and pray to be surrounded and protected in purity, just as fish are surrounded by the purity of water. We also pray that, just as the fish always have their eyes open, G-d will vigilantly watch over us with both eyes focused on our paths. Also, just as fish who swim free can be suddenly caught by nets, we too can be suddenly caught by the net of sins.

Water in Judaism

In Judaism, water is so pure an element that nothing, even our darkest sins, can taint it. In the time of the temple, many spiritual rituals were related to water. Today, we can personally tap into the purifying power of water all throughout the year by making good use of Jewish customs. Since our goal as humans is to infuse the physical with spirituality, it is important that we use the power of water to spiritually purify our bodies as much as possible.

Ritual Hand Washing – Netilat Yadaim

netilat yadayim 5906kil The Power of Water in JudasimIn Jewish tradition, the practice of ritualistically washing hands with water is very important. A ritual hand washing cup is used for this purpose. After waking up in the morning and after every time a person goes to the bathroom, a person can ritualistically wash their hands and pronounce a special blessing. Also, every time a person is about to start a meal where bread is eaten, there is another way they can ritualistically wash their hands and make a blessing. Thus, simply by washing our hands with water (using hand washing cups), we can elevate ourselves and the most mundane actions we do!

Mikveh: The Ritual Bath

The purifying aspect of water is also practiced through the ritual of the mikveh. A mikveh is a ritual Jewish bath. It can either be a man made, halachicaly designed bath with fresh flowing rain water that trickles into it, or it can be a natural body of water such as a river, ocean, or lake. It is customary for women to bathe in the mikveh once a month, 7 days after they complete the menstruation process. It is also advised that men bathe in the mikveh throughout the month, as much as possible. Mikveh baths are customarily taken before holy days, such as Shabbat. Prior to Yom Kippur, men and women both immerse in mikvehs, so as to spiritually cleanse themselves for the powerful day of cleansing that is to come.

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  1. Selichot: Preparation for the Day of Power

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