We smirked and commented that we had just “literally passed through hell” as we ascended the Hinnom Valley (known in the Bible as Gehenna) on our journey to the Pool of Siloam on the southern edge of the City of David. Sweat beads lined our foreheads and we could feel their collected drops rolling their way down our backs.
It was a hot walk in the afternoon heat of the fall. Our water bottles were depleted, but our spirits were full of enthusiasm and anticipation. We were together as friends, a few of us with our whole families, and were on our way to participate in something very special that families throughout the generations have gone together to do before us. When we finally arrived, we were pleased to find groups from other communities who had come the distance as well.
There we stood, siddurim in hand, one of us with a shofar, gathered around the 25-square meter pool exposed as a site from antiquity usually only used for viewing, but for those of us gathered there for Rosh HaShanah, it would become a place for interaction. It would become the place into which we would throw stones that symbolized the weight of our sins. Traditionally, the tashlich service is part of afternoon prayers on the first day of Rosh HaShanah. For hundreds of years, Jews before us have come to bodies of water to cast their sins away from themselves—a physical action to mimic the repentance and throwing-off of sins during the Ten Days of Awe to follow, all culminating in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
The Pool of Siloam today is a very small and stagnant body of water south of the Old City in Jerusalem. It is the place where Yeshua sent the man blind from birth to wash mud from his eyes during his miraculous healing. And, it is a place where, today, we can remember that Yeshua is still the vehicle through which we receive spiritual healing and reconciliation. Our family has experienced the Rosh HaShanah tashlich service in a variety of places throughout the years, but I was particularly excited to participate in such a service at a place that held this beautiful and significant connection to my Master.
When our kids were at an age when they could understand what it meant to “cast your sins into the water,” we would talk together as a family about things that we were trying to overcome. It seemed like every year we gleaned new lessons from this activity. We would observe how the stone’s entry into the water would leave behind ripples that reached to the ends of the water source, reminding us that our “sins” always have continued consequences that decrease in strength over time and distance. One child would remark at how throwing those stones in the lake scared the birds, reminding us of how our “sins” also affect others around us.
Some years our children would choose bigger rocks than others, or several rocks if they were struggling with multiple issues. I remember the freedom and relief and burdened-free looks on the faces of my children when they realized that they no longer needed to struggle under the weight of that rock. It was deeply fulfilling to watch their spiritual progression as they considered the Master and his role in providing an escape from bondage and then observing them making choices to rectify a new life-style with true repentance.
As they graduated and joined the IDF, three of them had the experience of throwing pebbles into buckets of water on their bases overlooking the Sea of Galilee during their years in training. Another significant experience, I’m sure. Now that they are adults, and now that I’m a grandmother, I value the years of different experiences and appreciate the part they played in their spiritual maturity … in mine as well.
When I walk to the Pool of Siloam this year, I will again walk in the heat of the fall Jerusalem afternoon, clamber down into the Hinnom Valley and trek back up toward the City of David. I will again find a stone along the way, and think about my sins, which will end up at the bottom of the pool. And, I will have the opportunity to experience (as the generations before me) the reality and contentment of passing down tradition to my children in order for them to have the tools to continue in the successes before them and instruct their own children in the ways in which they should go.