It seems that a lot of the Jewish holidays this time of year revolve around water… Not surprising since the Torah is compared to water, and both are considered the source of all life, spiritually and physically speaking. However the month of Tishrei has two separate instances where water plays a central role: Tashlich and Simchat Beit Hoshoeva.
Tashlich took place on the first day of Rosh Hashana. This old and meaningful Jewish ritual involves going to a body of water and performing tashlich “to cast away” our sins from the previous year. Standing next to a river, ocean, canal, stream, lake, or pond -preferably with fish in it- we recited prayers asking for Hashem to pardon our sins and forgive our iniquities. Why next to water? One reason (of many) is that the prophet Micah (7:19) says “and You shall cast into the depths of the sea all their sins.” Why with fish? Very interestingly, they are seen as good luck for Kabbalistic reasons…
Water with fish is optimal since fish are not subject to the “evil eye” and are also known to have many offspring. Fish do not have eyelids, so their eyes are always open. This is likened to G-d’s constant supervision over us, and we pray that He mercifully care for us. Also, just as fish may be caught in a fisherman’s net, so, too, we are caught in the net of judgment. This awareness helps awaken us to repent. -AskMoses.com
So basically what happens in Tashlich? We go to a body of water and throw our sins into in order to cleanse our souls and get ready for teshuvah and Yom Kippur.
Then 14 days later we enter Sukkot, and what do we do? We sing and dance and are joyous and happy. It’s a commandment to be happy for 8 days! Why? Because of Simchat Beit Hashoeva, “the joy of the drawing”, talking about the historical drawing of the water that happened during Sukkot in the times of the Temple. The drawing of the water itself is an interesting act, because usually during Temple sacrifices there was a wine offering, but on Sukkot we drew water from Shiloach spring and offered that with our sacrifices. This was always accompanied with the simcha -happiness- and dancing long into the night.
So how is this related to tashlich? On Rosh Hashana we throw our sins into the water… and on Sukkot we draw the water back out. What kind of sense does it make to draw the water that we just cast our sins into?!
Chassidus teaches us that after tashlich come the 10 days of teshuvah, or return and repentance. If we do true teshuvah, if we regret and repent and know that we would never do it again in the same situation, then something amazing happens. The sins that we did are not only forgiven, but they are even turned into merits! After teshuvah, when we are being judged by Hashem, those old sins that we cast into the water count as mitzvot. Then along comes Sukkot, and all of the sudden, the water drawing makes more sense. We threw sins into the water, we turned them into mitzvot, and then we draw them back out of the water.
That is why Sukkot is such a time of happiness and joy, we are adding all of the sins of last year to our merits of this year, completing the cycle of teshuvah in a way that can only be celebrated by dancing, singing, and rejoicing for a week straight!
May we all collect our many merits this Sukkot and rejoice in the light of our new mitzvot! Chag sameach!!