By Chaplain (Maj) Menachem Stern, USA
One Rosh Hashanah we held services for tashlich, a special prayer that is recited by a natural body of water. Our closest natural water was a river that flowed about a mile from our house. This is where I made a mistake. Usually, tashlich is recited on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. But the previous year, the holiday had fallen out on Shabbat and Sunday, which meant tashlich had to be moved to the second day. When the next year rolled around, I accidentally advertised that tashlich was going to be on the second day, even though it was not Shabbat. After sending out the message, I realized my mistake, but I didn’t want to retract it and confuse everyone. So I left it as is.
Our plan was to drive to the river before the holiday and park nearby. Since we don’t drive on the holiday, we would leave the car there until the holiday ended, at which point we would take the car back home. Just before Rosh Hashana started, we drove to the river and parked the car. We had a great turnout for tashlich on the second day—lots of people showed up in shifts.
About 30 people would come, and when they left another 10 or 15 would show up. I blew shofar whenever new people arrived. It was a very busy and interesting afternoon. Soon it was almost sundown. I asked my kids if they were ready to walk back home, but they were tired. So we decided to go to the park across the street and wait until the holiday ended to drive home.
At the park we encountered a family with children. We introduced ourselves and started conversing. The mother of the kids wished us a happy new year. I said to her, “You’r Jewish?” She said, “Well, I’m a bad Jew.” I replied, “What are you talking about? There’s no such thing!” She told me that because she had a newborn baby she hadn’t gotten a chance to hear the shofar yet. Fortunately, it was not yet nightfall, so I told her that I would blow the shofar right then.
Now I understood why I had scheduled tashlich for the second day. Although it was almost over, in the last minutes of the holiday we were able to help this family, who stayed in touch and became regulars at our services. I feel fortunate that I was able to see the Hashgacha Pratis, Divine Providence, to make that connection and keep it going for the duration of our assignment.
Originally published in the Tishrei 5783 Jewish-American Warrior