According to the Rosh Hashanah ritual of tashlich, we toss scraps of bread into a living body of water, symbolizing the casting away of transgressions for which we seek forgiveness. So every Elul, I find myself ankle deep in the Santa Monica Bay, heaving bread into waves where a few short weeks earlier I was splashing with my kids. As soon as the rabbi intones the liturgy, seagulls swoop in. “Like swallows returning to Capistrano,” a fellow congregant once told me. “The birds probably set their biological clock to tashlich.”
Not only do we return each year with our sins, the waves bring our scraps back to us. We heave them, they fall, and the ones the seagulls miss get carried back to our feet, soggy and defiant.
This all suggests that the struggle to be stainless and sin-free is a losing battle. But the holiday’s liturgy gives us an out: Acts of kindness, it says, help balance the scales. It’s no accident that ancient synagogue mosaics represent this month with the astrological symbol of Libra.
Fill Elul with charity and good deeds-it’s a good way to balance the scales for the New Year, before they start tipping again.
Rob Eshman is Editor-in-Chief of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.