Beloved Redeemed of the Lord,
Into the Depths of the Sea
Sin. It is recognized universally throughout the Jewish world during the High Holy Days that begin this year on Friday evening, September 18, 2020. Jews of every persuasion are confronted with uncomfortable verses such as Isaiah 64:6, “But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” In the eyes of a Holy God, a Righteous King, all have sinned. We are without excuse, no matter how benevolent nor extravagant we have been doing mitzvot (mitz-VOTE, good deeds) during the year. We have missed the mark (khet in Hebrew).
What does the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob do with our sin? How are we to understand Psalm 103:12, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” On the afternoon of Yom Teruah (Rosh HaShanah), September 20, 2020, this year, religious Jews in many countries, including the U.S., will go to a river, the ocean, or another body of running water to perform a service that deals with God forgiving sin. The service is called Tashlich (TASH-leak) and is based on verses from the Prophet Micah.
“Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast (ותשליך v’tashlich) all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will give truth to Jacob and mercy to Abraham, which You have sworn to our fathers from days of old” (Micah 7:18-20).
These verses, as well as others from the Holy Scriptures, are recited as the penitents toss bread crumbs or even pieces of tissues into the water, hoping that God will indeed cast their sins into the depths of the sea. It is interesting that the verses that precede verse 18 in the same chapter are not usually read. They paint a picture of sin in the 21st century: “And there is no one upright among men. They all lie in wait for blood” (vs. 2). “The prince asks for gifts, the judge seeks a bribe, and the great man utters his evil desire; so they scheme together” (vs. 3). “A man’s enemies are the men of his own household” (vs. 6). Even when sin is obvious, the traditional Jewish view is that man is innately good. His essence does not become evil despite his having sinned. Repentance purges one of evil. “The New Year commences. The Jew has repented and shed his burden of bygone sins, but what has he done to rid himself of the factors that caused him to sin” (Tashlich by ArtScroll)? A good question to be answered.
God will come to the rescue. There is hope in Him. “Therefore I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation (Elohay Yishi); My God will hear me” (vs. 7). (All of Micah 7 deserves to be read.)
The Origins of Tashlich
No one is sure of the exact origin of the Tashlich ceremony, but we know that it was in place by the 15th century. While it is based on the Bible, it is traditional rather than biblical in origin. One explanation of the Tashlich ceremony has to do with the coronation of kings. In Bible times, it was תשליך Tashlich customary to crown new kings at riverbanks. Since Rosh HaShanah (Yom Teruah) is the day in which God is revealed as the King who judges His universe and holds its destiny in His hand, a ceremony at the water’s edge is fitting. God, the Holy King (HaMelech HaKadosh), is crowned King by His servants who are seeking forgiveness of sin.
Concerning Tashlich performed at the ocean, a lesson is explained in Tashlich by the ArtScroll Mesorah series: “The seas are by far the greater part of the earth. The waters should have inundated the land and made human life impossible. Indeed, storms and tidal waves give us continued reminders of the ocean’s awesome power…That God created an overwhelming mass of water but decreed the emergence of lands, reveals that the purpose of creation was to provide a habitat for man, a setting where he could exercise his Divinely given intelligence and let his soul be master of his body in God’s service. Rosh HaShanah inaugurates the days when man is judged by his Maker. How well has he served God? How well has he utilized the earth and its fullness that God placed at His disposal? How well has he achieved the purpose of his existence?
Standing before the watery deep on the Day of Judgment, a Jew is reawakened to his mission on earth.
The Thirteen Attributes of Mercy
Traditional Jews connect the Tashlich verses of Micah 7:18-20 with Exodus 34:6-7, where the God of Israel reveals His nature: “And the LORD passed before him [Moses] and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.”
God is a God of Mercy (rachamim, from the word for womb, rechem) who forgives. The Tashlich prayer for one’s sins to be cast into the depths of the sea is based on the thirteen Divine Attributes of Mercy that rabbis find in Exodus 34:6-7. God’s Four-Letter Holy Name is mentioned three times in attributes 1 and 2 and is considered to not only express His timelessness, but His willingness to restore sinful man to his original state if he repents. However, there is a problem with the final attribute, #13: “… by no means clearing the guilty,” or translated rabinically as “…He Who erases and He does not erase.” The ArtScroll interpretation is as follows: “This is the thirteenth attribute. God wipes away the sins of those who repent, but does not wipe away the sins of those who refuse to repent. Alternatively, when God erases sins, He does so gradually (i.e., He erases, but He does not erase completely), in order to save the sinner from being overwhelmed by the sudden and enormous degree of suffering that may be necessary to atone for the full measure of his sin.”
No! I must disagree here. There is Good News: God erased sin, and the power of sin, in one glorious moment of time—when His Son, the Messiah, made atonement for all mankind on a cross in Jerusalem. Yes! There was an enormous degree of suffering necessary to atone for the full measure of sin, but you and I are not the ones to do the suffering. Yeshua did it for us! That is why we love Him.
The ArtScroll commentary also says, “Furthermore, God Himself pours out clean water, as it were, to wash away the stains of sin.” Not true, according to the Torah: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul” (Lev. 17:11). Only blood, not water, can wash away the stains of sin, and that blood has been shed once for all: the blood of God’s Only Son, the Messiah Yeshua. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). “Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12). May the truth set God’s precious people Israel free! Yeshua came to fulfill the Law. Tashlich will be fulfilled as well!
On July 25, 1979, my sixth born-again birthday (the sixth anniversary of receiving Yeshua as my Messiah and Lord), I went to the beach to be with God. I wanted to thank Him for that special day since on July 25, 1970, I met my husband Neil in New City, NY, and on July 25, 1973, I met Yeshua in Bethpage, NY. As I sat in my beach chair at the ocean’s edge, I asked the Lord, according to my custom, for a born-again birthday gift. This time I asked for something, some ministry or idea, that would show the world how creative God is. As I sat meditating, looking at the ocean, I heard a Scripture in my spirit: “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days” (I later saw verse 2: “Give a serving to seven, and also to eight, for you do not know what evil will be on the earth.“) I knew that the Word of God is often called the “bread of life” and was familiar with Deuteronomy 8:3 and Matthew 4:4, “…Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
I thought, “How can I cast the Word of God on the ocean waters?” My answer came as I noticed the little white shells on the sand near my beach chair. They are called Lucina shells and are smooth and white, shining like light (luz in Spanish). The Lord gave me the idea of writing His Word, actually messages from Him on the seashells, and casting them into the ocean so that people could find them. When I later read verse 2, I decided to “cast” 7 or 8 each day, either directly into the ocean or shoreline.
After my time at the beach, I went to our home, across the street from Ft. Lauderdale Beach, and told Neil what God had said. He suggested that I put our phone number on the inside of the shell so that people hungry for God, or merely curious, could contact me. Oh, my wise and brilliant husband! Who knew at that time that his suggestion would result in hundreds of calls over the years from seekers? Salvations. Healings. Miracles. Lives touched for eternity. I could (should?) write a book.
The first call came about a week later from a woman in a hotel, visiting from Chicago. I was able to share Yeshua with her. The excitement began, and so did the testing of materials. What should I use to write on the seashells? To coat them? We had jars of sea water and sand in the kitchen and would shake them several times daily to see how long the messages would last in the water. Sharpie permanent markers and Krylon acrylic spray won. The messages have lasted for months in the ocean!
The seashell ministry has many interesting connections. When we had two former nuns living with us in our house on the beach, they were very excited that the ministry began on July 25. Why? It seems that saints have special days in Catholicism, and St. James’ Day is July 25. His symbol is the seashell. When Neil and I were in Santiago de Compostela, at the cathedral where St. James is buried, we actually saw people ending their pilgrimages who had used walking sticks with a scallop shell on top. They were said to have “taken the shell.” To me, this shows God’s sense of humor. I’m not James, but I am, like all believers, a “saint.” Jamie, not James.
Casting the Bread of Life
I remember asking the Lord years ago if the seashell ministry had a “Jewish” connection. He replied immediately: “Yes, it is a Messianic Tashlich ceremony. Traditional Jews throw bread crumbs into the water hoping that I will forgive their sins. You throw shells into the water showing them how their sins can be forgiven!” WOW. The fulfillment of Tashlich. I cast upon the waters the “Bread of Life,” the Word of God, so that people can taste and see that the Lord is Good, that God is real and that He loves them.
Every year on July 25, Neil would go with me to the ocean (once we no longer lived there). I decided to go this year alone (my 47th born again birthday). I checked into an old-fashioned, onestory motel on Pompano Beach, FL, for two nights. I made ten special shells, including one for the owner of the motel, once I saw printed on my receipt, at the very bottom, “Oremus! Deo adjuvante non timendum. Let us pray! With the help of God there is nothing to be afraid of.” I figured I had found the right place for my celebration with the Lord.
The morning I left for the beach we were in a tropical depression. It was pouring rain. I questioned my sanity, but decided I would have no problem with social distancing given the weather. I would have the entire beach to myself! I checked into the motel, “set up house,” and prayed. The rain stopped at about 3:00 pm. Following a wonderful time of swimming in the waves with God (due to the storm), I placed three shells on the sand at the water’s edge (I do not throw them into the ocean unless it is calm). My cell phone rang at about 5:00 pm. It was a young man, Tomas, from Venezuela. He and his wife were at the beach talking over their present situation, which had been devastated by COVID-19, wondering what to do. They found a shell that said, “Look up. God has the answer.” Tomas was very moved by the message and by the fact that God was reaching out to him—especially due to the fact that he was born on July 25! I spoke with Tomas for about fifteen minutes and encouraged him concerning his desire to write. Two days later, he sent me a copy of something he wrote the day after we spoke: a letter to God. It is precious, filled with gratitude and a desire to make this world a better place. Please pray for Tomas and his wife, Annie. God has a plan for them!
The next morning at about 8:00 I went to the beach to “cast” more shells. The rain had strewn the beach with mounds of seaweed, the ocean was churning, and there was hardly space to place shells. But God! My cell phone rang at 9:00 am. It was Dan, age 18, a mechanic from Long Island. He was very open, and I shared with him about the Lord. Dan prayed with me to receive Jesus as his Savior.
The rains began again—a deluge—and I retreated to my motel room. About an hour later the phone rang. It was a young man named Christian. He had seen one of my shells on Instagram. It turns out that “Mark the Shark,” the most recognized person in shark fishing in the world, had been on the beach with his three-year-old son for a swim before dinner, and his son found a shell in the seaweed with a big pink rose on the front. It said, “You are Special…to God.” (Which, by the way, is the all-time favorite saying over the years. Everyone wants to know that he or she is special—especially to God.)
Mark asked his 171,000 followers if he should call the number on the shell. They decided to call it themselves. So…the calls started coming from all over the country. All from males between 18 and 35 years of age!?! I was able to share the Gospel and have delightful conversations with Mark the Shark’s followers. Connor from Arkansas was especially sweet. They were all open, not religious, but curious. My son Jesse was concerned for me with my private cell number all over the internet. My son Jonathan thought it was great that God was throwing fish into my boat. I was, naturally, having a wonderful time soaking up blessings as the rain poured down.
Mark the Shark called after I returned home from the beach. He was excited about my seashell ministry. When I told him that I was a Bible teacher, he mentioned that his mother had been a teacher and a “Bible expert.” His father had been a “preacher.” I said to him, “Mark, I believe I am the answer to your mother’s prayers.” “He said, ‘You very well may be.'”
This story is not over. As you pray, God will write the rest.
Expecting Miracles in 5781! Love,
P.S. The miracles began before we could get this to the printer. Annie, Tomas’s wife, had a dream, and in it she vivdly saw the numbers 345026. The next day they went to the post office and Tomas saw a book on the ledge where he was checking his package. It was a wet, open Bible, turned to page 345, including Jeremiah 26. He called me, very excited, to ask if the Bible was for him and what it meant. No one claimed the Bible. It is his. God is obviously moving in this couple’s life. Let’s all pray for them that God will show them that the Bible must become the foundation of their lives.
P.P.S. I have collected seashells since I was a toddler. When Neil asked for my hand in marriage, my father said to Him, “You can have her if you also take all her boxes of shells!”