During my months of Christian church-going, I came to think of a sin as something a person did, an act perpetrated despite the knowledge that every aspect of nature, including all of humanity and even one’s own self, is an integral part of a greater whole. I understood a sin to be a deed of destruction, something we do (knowingly or not) to chip away at our own—or anyone else’s—ability to thrive.

It wasn’t until I experienced the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah that I began to grasp how a sin may also be the opposite of this: a thing we fail to do. It could be an egregious error such as not reaching out to, or even noticing, a person in need. It also could be as subtle as being too preoccupied to properly appreciate the natural beauty around us.

While these two versions of sin seem different, they actually stem from the same source: a failure to grant an element of creation the care and honor it deserves.

At the Rosh Hashanah service at the Unitarian church, one of the prayers we recited together in English centered on the theme of listening. Written by contemporary Rabbi Jack Reimer, it included the lines “…we hear the voices of our friends—or our neighbors…our family…our children—but we do not appreciate their sounds of urgency: ‘Notice me…help me…care about me.’ We hear—but do we really listen?” As I mulled over these words, I felt my heart grow heavy. For days, they followed me around like the ghosts of my past.

If I had been sticking strictly to custom, the next day—the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah when the shofar blasts were fresh in my mind—I would have made my way to a natural body of water to perform the ritual of “tashlikh.” This is the symbolic “casting away” of one’s sins from the previous year. Many Jews who live near the coast will go to the sea and toss bread crumbs or pebbles, items representing their misdeeds, into the waves.

It seems to me that once the crumbs or pebbles hit the water, you would lose track of them quickly. Knowing how rapidly they will be consumed by the vast ocean somehow makes the sin-digging process more palatable and less overwhelming. Since I am hours from the coast, I thought about approximating this act in the nearest natural body of water to me, which is a creek that flows through the center of town. This being my first Rosh Hashanah, I had many more months to review besides the previous 12; I would need an entire loaf of bread, perhaps several.

I imagined hauling a satchel of crumbs to the small bridge downtown. Theoretically, the sins dumped there would eventually run into the ocean, but I shuddered at the thought of that heap lingering; Rosh Hashanah comes well before the snow-melt makes the water rush. I decided to hold off: I needed additional time to review my past, perhaps to narrow my catalogue of sins or to find a body of water where the sin-to-H2O ratio would be more favorable.

Before the sun set on Rosh Hashanah, I knew where my journey to make amends would take me: Los Angeles, the city to which I moved as a pre-teen. Luckily, a visit there would give me access to the vast Pacific Ocean.

51 thoughts on “Crumbs

  1. Ah….I felt refreshed as I read your essay and enjoyed reading about the ritual. It still is coming across to me as religious or spiritual thought that attracts you personally as if you’re making peace with something you are revisiting and find it enlightening and refreshing at the same time. Most of our Centers of Spiritual Living do a burning bowl ritual at the end of the year where people put notes about things they want to let go of. Kind of like the bread crumbs. Perhaps I can introduce the bread crumb idea. It’s all about letting go and the sins of commission or omission.

  2. Corinna, I so appreciated and understood your reflection in Crumbs. It reminds me, how moments of attention are can slip by and how the steadiness of my attention and awareness are my work of being in non-judgement and loving kindness….and that those circumstances of ones past may still require some tending too.
    Colleen Austin, Texas

  3. Corinna – several loaves worth of atonement? You jest, surely! Comparatively, I’d have to take several wheelbarrow loads to to the Bay of Fundy. . .

  4. Hi Corrina—and welcome Colleen!
    A very cool post on at least two levels. First, about the things we don’t do…There’s a phrase from the Episcopal communal confession, asking forgiveness “for the things we have done and the things we have left undone”. In a lot of theology, there is way too much emphasis on avoiding doing bad things instead of assertively doing what’s right. If you read the Gospels, Jesus spends a lot more time talking about doing good than He does about telling us what to avoid. I think the belief that there’s no such thing as “justification through works” has, in some ways, blotted out the expectation that we actively reach out to the world around us. Works have no spiritual meaning if they are done grudgingly or you’re forced to do them. On the other hand, as James said. “faith without works is dead.”

    Second, I really like the idea of casting off our sins (or as Carmen prefers, “our wrongs”) through a physical act, like tossing bread crumbs or washing. There’s a psychological value to performing an act to match the thought—it makes it more concrete for a lot of people. Also, it’s a visible sign that whatever you did is no longer a part of you and no longer a burden to be borne. Like you said, it vanishes into the vastness of the ocean of our lives. Confirming, through ritual, that you can cast off your past mistakes and start over is a tremendously joyful and refreshing feeling, whether you do it through spoken confession or by tossing symbolic bread into a river.

    BTW, there was an interesting opinion piece on CNN’s website yesterday, about why millennials are turning away from “the church”. One of the author’s lines made me laugh and reminded me of your previous posts. The author gives presentations to evangelical pastors on why younger people are leaving churches. She said the most common question she gets afterward is “So you think we need hipper music?” It reminded me of The Buzz and Vibrant Belief from last month!

  5. Just a p.s. – heard from Patti; they are back home and she sends her love and wants everyone to know that she’ll be back ASAP but it’ll take her a bit to get caught up!
    And Tim, you just HAD to put that reference in to Vibrant Belief, didn’t you??? ha, ha!

    • Hi Shelley, Yeah, I think you’re right. If I broke up the bread really small, probably just one slice would do. But I like the image of several bags of Wonderbread slung over my shoulder.

      • Corinna and followers,
        I don’t know. There is something about quantifying these mistakes or sins or failures in this context that just makes me uncomfortable….believe me, Corinna, I can visualize you with a pack full of pellet-making Wonderbread slung over your shoulder, one so bulky and heavy you almost have to drag it toward the water. But I am not sure that it is the number of crumbs that you throw in to the water, so much as it is your attitude and soul searching…..where there is no making of excuses and no dodging of responsibility. I looked up this ceremony, which is called Tashlikh…with varied spellings… and the bread crumbs seemed secondary to the importance of the water….and if I understand it correctly, being at the Pacific Ocean for this ritual is much preferred to a small sluggish stream. But I am with Homewithin and her handful of crumbs as a symbol of one’s interest in atonement and forgiveness.

        I would be really pleased it someone who is actually Jewish and in the know would weigh in on this issue.

        • I did notice today in the “stats” many views to the blog from Israel. Perhaps some observant Jews will chime in. I think most of the Jews reading regularly are probably more on the “reformed” spectrum and don’t follow the laws as closely. Still, I agree, it would be great to have Jews share their opinions.

        • Hi Corinna and Merrill,
          Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for! I am the “Real McCoy” …Jewish, Chassidic, and ordained as a Rabbi. I don’t have a pulpit in the ordinary sense, as I completed the studies and exams to attain a better understanding of Judaism.

          I make my financial living from a small factory that produces equipment for people with special physical needs. I make my spiritual living using the tools I acquired from applying the lessons that I have learned about Judaism.

          This post and many of the subsequent comments are worthy of a proper response. The pressures of time and my super slow typing qualities do not properly address all of the interesting comments and questions. I believe Corinna touched on a beautiful insight. In trying to understand the nature of a “sin” and what constitutes the same. I think this is a moving insight Corinna, “a failure to grant an element of creation the care and honor it deserves”

          The Torah is guide to life, bearing 613 commandments. These commandments are often compared to strands or threads. Each strand is linked to the soul of an individual and the other end is linked to our Creat-r. The strands are the DNA of our spiritual relationship. Like an earthly relationship, they are comprised of Love, Desire, Fear, Respect, Honor and other elemental qualities. My sister has a pillow with an inscription that spells it out best, “Friendship isn’t one big thing, it’s a million little things.”

          There was a famous movie staring Paul Newman called “Cool Hand Luke”, that left the nation with an expression that has remained a part of our lexicon, (best said with a southern drawl) ” What we have here is a failure to communicate” The failure to guard our spiritual relationship; the failure to seize an opportunity to broadcast light or to diminish goodness damages the strands and weakens our bond with Gd. This is the core of a sin.

          With any relationship, the more you prepare, the more you reap. The casting of the crumbs is remind ourselves that we should examine our deeds and cast away those that are undesirable and strengthen our resolve to do as much as possible to enhance our deeds.

          The deepest understanding of a sin is the sin itself. Part of the punishment is the painful knowledge that our own actions (or lack of) may have damaged or severed one of the strands that ties us with Gd.

          There are many different versions of customs, but generally we seek a body of water that supports life, particularly fish. As many fish have eyes that never close so does Gd have eyes that never close and all of our deeds are known.

          The downside of brevity is that there is much to say and the medium is limiting. It is important to emphasize that a connection to Gd cannot be accomplished without a healthy connection to our fellow man.

          Sorry for any typos, syntax or other goof ups. My secretary is underpaid and ill equipped!



          • Aaron, WOW….How wonderful to have you step in with such a wonderful explanation. I’m glad that you were moved to respond. I think we’ve been waiting for you to show up. I will write down the wonderfully mystical words you have shared.

            • Thanks for the warm welcome. I can’t resist a good turn of a phrase, so I guess now I am “a Rabbi to None”. All the best, Aaron

          • Welcome Rabbi Aaron! I definitely support the idea of a maintaining a healthy connection to humankind – I like to think that’s one of the things we are striving for on Corinna’s Blog!

            • Rabbi Aaron,
              I welcome you too! Finally one of us really knows what they are talking about! I read about the business with wanting to have fish in the body of water where one threw the crumbs…..your explanation of fish having eyes which never close just as with God made sense of the situation for me. Thanks.

              • Thanks Tim for your welcome, The dilemma you present is a classic. Our tradition is the Moses received the Torah in two fashions; The Written Law and The Oral Law. As far as I recall the laws of typing were part of the Oral Law, and therefore it remains a conundrum to this day…. I have been accused of having a dry sense of humor.

                • Your comment is sending me to sleep with a grin on my face, Aaron. As a former Roman Catholic, I feel enough guilt for my typing problems–I’m pretty sure its a venal sin for not listening to the sister’s advice about taking typing in junior high. Now I have to deal with Torah-based guilt, too?! Talk about having deep roots!

                  • BTW, I love this quote:
                    “The failure to guard our spiritual relationship; the failure to seize an opportunity to broadcast light or to diminish goodness damages the strands and weakens our bond with Gd. This is the core of a sin.” What a beautiful description of the two sides of sin: the wrong act and the failure to do good. Thank you!

                    • Hi Tim, I enjoyed and appreciated both of your comments.

                      When I was in High School I had a Catholic Speech teacher, who also doubled as the Schools Speech Team coach. We had to a project to give a comedic talk. I chose to make an irreverent parody of the quirks of “Freshmen”; at the end of the class the teacher asked me to stay after everyone left. I got the impression that he was not happy with me. He looked at me without expression and asked me if I would be willing to give the speech for some friends of his the next day. Surprised, I agreed. The next day we drove up to a Catholic school and he took me into a large room full of students and a number of traditionally dressed Nuns (not to be confused with the Nones here) and asked me to go ahead. I was thinking, “Man this guy is crazier than me”, and I softly asked him, “Are you sure?” He smiled and said, “Relax and have fun.”

                      I took him at his word and found a wonderfully receptive audience. The funny part was that the Nuns were laughing harder than the students. When I finished, my teacher turned to me and said, “I knew that they would love you, welcome to the Speech team!”

                      With that, this youngster saw that humor was a healthy and powerful unifying medium for people of all faiths. (I think it supersedes guilt!)

                    • That’s a wonderful story, Aaron! One of my sisters-in-law is a Caremlite nun (very traditional order). I was always a little intimidated by her, until a few years after I was married; she spent a weekend home and we started joking with each other. You are so right–humor can bridge some monumental gaps! (Just don’t ask me how she reacted after we told her we were becoming Episcopalians 8 years ago)!

    • Pretty straight-forward delineation of much of what many of us have talked about……keeping it simple, being inclusive, focusing on what we can do for those less fortunate than ourselves, caring about the world. Young people are looking for substance, not flash and restrictive rules. Thanks for that link, Tim.

  6. Merrill said:
    I would be really pleased it someone who is actually Jewish and in the know would weigh in on this issue.
    Pretty straight-forward delineation of much of what many of us have talked about……keeping it simple, being inclusive, focusing on what we can do for those less fortunate than ourselves, caring about the world. Young people are looking for substance, not flash and restrictive rules

    It would be nice to hear from someone who’s Jewish. As much as we may be able to offer our opinions and comments, hearing the views of someone who actually practices the faith would be so helpful. And I think it’d be interesting to hear the Jewish perspective on some of the things we’ve been discussing as Christians/agnostics/atheists/Nones and whoever else may be hanging out!

  7. Good morning Corinna and friends. It is good to be back. It was a wonderful vacation, most especially because of Carmen and Reggie and the delightful people of Nova Scotia (we did not meet a single frown, ANYWHERE!) Carmen and I gave a lot of thought to where we could have a NoneBlog Convention. We figured it would have to be somewhere in the middle of the US. Kansas????? Wyoming? ? We really need to get together in the flesh, somehow. Perhaps when Corinna has a book signing?

    I have been trying to catch up on the posts and comments since I left on July 7th, and I have to tell you that my head HURTS. You are some VERY, VERY smart people. After reading all the comments I felt as though my brain were going to explode. Luckily, it hasn’t, but I am not sure if it has recovered, lol.

    The posts on Judaism are a pleasure, even though I read them with an automatic “How does this translate into Christianity?” filter. I am what I am. But seeing the roots of so much of what I believe is validating, in an odd way.

    When I read “Looser” and “Crumbs”, the thoughts going through my head were: “Oh…yes! That concept is the same as pray without ceasing. Or – In this and all things, give thanks to God.” When I read about the loaves of bread, my immediate thought was “Maybe the fish will be well fed,” which would accomplish two things – getting rid of your sins and doing a mitzpah, a good deed. I think what Tim said about the confession of “what we have done and what we have left undone” is close in concept – just daily or weekly instead of yearly.

    This post made me think again of what my ‘milk mother’ said to me about forgiveness, and I’ve said it on the blog before: “When you tell God that you are sorry and repent, He casts your sins into the deepest, darkest abyss in the ocean and they are gone. Don’t get out your fishing pole.”

    Lots of other thoughts too complicated to articulate are in my head, but I agree with the desire that members of the faith continue to add their thoughts.

    I am glad to ‘see’ all my friends again. I will be jumping in and out between catching up on laundry, lol.

    Yours in Christ

    PS – Again, just have to let you all know how WONDERFUL Carmen and her family are. She wouldn’t let me take Reggie OR any of the babies home with me, darn it.

      • Thank you. I missed all of you, but was having waaaaaay too much fun to think hard, lol. Can I confess to being glad I missed trying to enter the discussion on good vs. evil? I am now trying to return my brain to thinking vs vacation mode. We’ll see how well it works. 🙂

  8. Welcome back, Patti–you were missed! If you’re doing laundry, maybe you can give my kid lessons before he goes to college. I tried over the weekend and the results were not pretty….

  9. lol…..fat chance! My daughter is 35, and it’s still all I can do to get her to wash. She has never wrapped her head around the concept of ‘fold’. Her method is to throw things in a big bag or box and dig. And of course, then what is clean and what is dirty become inextricably mixed up….and there we are….washing again! Apparently her OC works for her books and knicknacks but NOT for her clothes.

    Oh well. After three weeks of not doing a lot but sitting and talking and looking, I have plenty of energy for folding. 🙂 It’s nice to be back here.

  10. Ironically, all this talk about laundry kind of fits in with Corrina’s post. You get something dirty, you toss it in the wash, and, (with the possible exceptions of my son and Patti’s daughter), your clothes come out clean. How often have any of us wondered where the stain “went”? All we know is that it’s been washed away and forgotten. We don’t think about the stain the next time we wear that piece of clothing, do we? Why, then, do so many people insist on hanging on to their sins after they see them for what they are, and then ask for and receive forgiveness? Or even worse, remind others of the wrongs they’ve done? If God is willing to put our sins away from Him, “as far as east is from west,”, then we should be willing to do the same for ourselves and for each other.

  11. Thank you, Tim, for calling them what they are – MISTAKES!! We’re human – hence, we make mistakes. For many of us, that’s how we learn. That word, SIN is just too loaded for me so it’s been taken out of my vocabulary. It’s baggage and we don’t need it. I feel like I’m pounding away at this and I see the value of self-reflection – really, I do! – but I see no point in dwelling on negativity. Plus, most people I know do far more positive things than negative – shouldn’t the GOOD things we do count for much more in the grand scheme of things??

    • Good Morning Carmen–Yes, I think the good we do, and the good God sees in us is far more poweful than the wrongs we do. As Peter wrote, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” (Sorry–had to use the word in this context)!

  12. Good afternoon. Just got back from taking my daughter and her significant other to find a couch. So I thought I would check in.

    Carmen, I know you and I talked about this whole thing, and I really do understand what you are saying. Most of the time, most of what people do DOES qualify as a “mistake”. When you forget a loved one’s birthday, or you hurt their feelings, or you forget a promise you’ve made….those are small mistakes. Sometimes, they are bigger ones, like letting your temper go and REALLY letting someone know what you think of an action or attitude. And sometimes they are BIG, like cheating on your income tax or spouse. I am willing to designate most things in life that we do wrong as a mistake, even if sometimes it’s as a HUGE mistake.

    But there are a few things that, if you designate them as ‘mistakes’, you denigrate the suffering of those who are harmed by those ‘mistakes.’ I think we were talking about this and I used the example of Hitler. To designate what he did as “a mistake” is to make nothing the suffering of 6 million Jews. You cannot possibly use any other word than SIN. In caps!

    I am not sure where that leaves us……maybe in the arena of ‘venial’ versus ‘mortal’ sins. Tim, you know what I am saying.

    Most of us never do more than commit pretty bad mistakes. But Carmen, I cannot agree with you that there is no place for the word sin. I am afraid that it must remain in my vocabulary.

    Much love,

    • Absolutely, Patti – there are heinous acts; I can think of many Catholic priests I’d like to add to that list (and I’m wondering just how much that sin/confession doctrine contributed to that perversion – did their KNOWING they’d be forgiven and getting a clean slate from God perhaps serve to continue/promote their behaviour?). It seems to me that most people should be able to distinguish between a mistake and heinous behaviour.

  13. Hi Carmen and Patti—Didn’t take too long to get back into the groove, huh Patti? For what is worth, I think you both make valid points. “Sin’ is a charged word, and has too often been used a bludgeon to categorize people into the “sinners’ and the “saved”. But I do believe there are truly “sinful” or “evil” people in this world, ones who actually revel in the wrongs they do. Charles Manson comes to mind; someone who is so enamored of his own delusional greatness that he feels no remorse, even after 40 years, for his acts. You could say someone like him is such a sociopath that he is mentally ill, and to a degree you might be right, but if you’ve ever listened to him for more than five minutes, you know that he knows right from wrong; he just thinks he’s exempt from society’s rules, and he enjoys inflicting pain in any form every chance he gets.

    But for the rest of us regular run-of-the-mill imperfect people, what’s the difference between a mistake and a sin? I’m not sure, but I think it lies in how we view and react to it. If we see the wrong in what we’ve done, try to make amends in the best way possible, take responsibility, and embrace forgiveness, it’s a mistake. And maybe there’s a dimension of willfulness involved as well. If I harm someone else in a flash of anger, but then regret that action, apologize, and ask for forgiveness, I’ve made a mistake and tried to make it right. If I justify that anger with “I’m right and he’s wrong” , then the anger becomes an act of my conscious will, something I accept and choose to act out, rather than a rash and wholly human error. If we wrap ourselves in denial and ego, it’s a sin.

  14. Tim, I absolutely agree to your definition. I think it is one Carmen and I can both agree with heartily.

    • Thanks, Patti. I think just about all of us are seeking the same thing most of the time. I guess if we fully understood human nature we wouldn’t need to share so much corporate wisdom, but where’s the fun in that?!?

  15. I agree with you Tim! You’re absolutely right about the sociopaths – they walk among us. Any discipline problem I’ve ever had in school can usually be handled very quickly. For instance, any altercation I have had with a student and taken them in the hallway to talk over has almost always resulted in the student apologizing as soon as they get outside the door. For a handful of students, however, you’ll hear, “Why didn’t you speak to so-and-so – s/he was doing it, too!” or , “You’re always picking on me!” . .. when I hear those words, I know we’ve got a problem! For those teenagers – who regretfully often turn into anti-social adults – life is full of hard knocks.

  16. lol. I’ve NEVER had any problem with thinking that the Pope can be wrong. So what’s new?

    Rabbi Aaron, welcome. When you said what you did about sin breaking the strands with God, I was reminded of what was once told me about God ‘abandoning’ someone. The subject of course was “where was God when I needed Him?” That was the angry question by someone whose life was not going the way they wanted. The response was “God is still there. You are the one who has taken a step away.” To me, that is part of what sin does to us. It makes us take a step away from our fellow beings.

    It is good to have you here, and good to see that Tim has a typing buddy! 🙂

    • Hi Patti,

      I appreciate the hospitality from you and all have welcomed me. Agree with your sentiments about the collateral damage of our misdeeds.

  17. I reread my post, and realized that what I said came out wrong. I actually think that the Pope may have said something right, this time, though I do not assign him the infallacy that the Catholic church does in everything.

    Anyway. Good morning all. I finally got to sleep last night and today is a better day.

    • I thought you’d figure it our sooner or later! Papal infallibility has been a flash point for a long time, but its not quite as black-and-white as a lot of people think. But it was one of many reasons we looked elsewhere nine years ago. I still know a lot of Roman Catholics who like to use the old phrase “Rome said it, I believe it, and that settles it.” To which I answer, “And what if ‘Rome’ is having a bad day?” I think it speaks volumes when a U.S. cardinal, who had nothing to do with the Pope’s trip to Brazil, feels the need to defend the Church’s entrenched attitudes despite what his boss says.

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