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The Paper Chicken

The Paper Chicken

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Once, on the evening before Yom Kippur, one of the chassidim of Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk asked his Rebbe to allow him to see how he, Rabbi Elimelech, observes the custom of kaparot.

"How I do kaparot?" repeated Rabbi Elimelech. "How do you do kaparot?"

"I am an ordinary Jew -- I do what everyone else does. I hold the rooster in one hand, the prayer book in the other, and recite the text, 'This is my exchange, this is in my stead, this is my atonement...'"

"That's exactly what I do," said Rabbi Elimelech. "I take the rooster in one hand, the prayer book in the other, and recite the text. Actually, there might be a certain difference between your kaparot and mine: you probably make sure to use a white rooster, while to me it makes no difference: white, black, brown -- a rooster's a rooster..."

But the chassid persisted that his Rebbe's kaparot was certainly no ordinary event. He had been coming to Lizhensk to pray with the Rebbe every Yom Kippur for more than twenty years now, and had always wanted to observe his Rebbe at this most solemn moment.

"You want to see an extraordinary kaparot?" said Rabbi Elimelech. "Go observe how Moshe the tavern-keeper does kaparot. Now, there you'll see something far more inspiring than my own, ordinary kaparot."

The chassid located Moshe's tavern at a crossroads several miles outside of Lizhensk and asked to stay the night. "I'm sorry," said the tavern-keeper. "As you see, this is a small establishment, and we don't have any rooms to let. There's an inn a small distance further down the road."

"Please," begged the chassid, "I've been traveling all day, and I want to rest awhile. I don't need a room -- I'll just curl up in a corner for a few hours and be on my way."

"O.K.," said Moshe. "We'll be closing up shortly, and then you can get some sleep."

After much shouting, cajoling and threatening, Moshe succeeded in herding his clientele of drunken peasants out the door. The chairs and tables were stacked in a corner, and the room, which also served as the tavern-keeper's living quarters, readied for the night. Midnight had long passed, and the hour of kaparot was approaching. The chassid, wrapped in his blanket under a table, feigned sleep, but kept watch in the darkened room, determined not to miss anything.

Before dawn, Moshe rose from his bed, washed his hands and recited the morning blessings. "Time for kaparot!" he called quietly to his wife, taking care not to wake his guest. "Yentel, please bring me the notebook -- it's on the shelf above the cupboard."

Moshe sat himself on a small stool, lit a candle, and began reading from the notebook, unaware that his "sleeping" guest was wide awake and straining to hear every word. The notebook was a diary of all the misdeeds and transgressions the tavern-keeper had committed in the course of the year, the date, time and circumstance of each scrupulously noted. His "sins" were quite benign -- a word of gossip one day, oversleeping the time for prayer on another, neglecting to give his daily coin to charity on a third -- but by the time Moshe had read through the first few pages, his face was bathed in tears. For more than an hour Moshe read and wept, until the last page had been turned.

"Yentel," he now called to his wife, "bring me the second notebook."

This, too, was a diary -- of all the troubles and misfortunes that had befallen him in the course of the year. On this day Moshe was beaten by a gang of peasants, on that day his child fell ill; once, in the dead of winter, the family had frozen for several nights for lack of firewood; another time their cow had died, and there was no milk until enough rubles had been saved to buy another.

When he had finished reading the second notebook, the tavern-keeper lifted his eyes heavenward and said: "So you see, dear Father in Heaven, I have sinned against You. Last year I repented and promised to fulfill Your commandments, but I repeatedly succumbed to my evil inclination. But last year I also prayed and begged You for a year of health and prosperity, and I trusted in You that it would indeed be this way.

"Dear Father, today is the eve of Yom Kippur, when everyone forgives and is forgiven. Let us put the past behind us. I'll accept my troubles as atonement for my sins, and You, in Your great mercy, shall do the same."

Moshe took the two notebooks in his hands, raised them aloft, circled them three times above his head, and said: "This is my exchange, this is in my stead, this is my atonement." He then threw them into the fireplace, where the smoldering coals soon turned the tear-stained pages to ashes.

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Mattityahu Watson The asthenosphere March 25, 2017

Me and my family did that same kaparot last Yom Kippur. Reply

Anonymous October 17, 2016

It seems to me using a real chicken is more like showing your not atoning for your sins... Reply

Marilyn Laux United States September 17, 2015

This is a beautiful story. Thank you. Reply

Gail K. Brooklyn September 10, 2015

Thank you for sharing this very moving story. If only everyone practiced this kinder, more honest Kapparot! Reply

Anonymous Glendale September 14, 2013

Thank you for sharing this story, it is very inspiring ! Reply

Poshiter Yidt Eretz Yisrael September 13, 2013

Extraordinary story.
Please keep posting more Chassidishe tales on Chabad.org! They are always inspiring! Reply

Eli Singer NY September 12, 2013

Thank you Jason and Yisroel. I had the same question and appreciated your comments. Reply

Marcia Worden Chico, CA September 3, 2013

Moshe weeps over his personal failures of the past year. But as he reads the list of misfortunes which have befallen him in the past year, he acknowledges he accepts, humbly, the difficult events which have befallen him. He serves his Father in Heaven with love, never with blame. He acknowledges that he is loved by the Father, that hard fortune has been his fate, not a punishment meted out to him by the living Father. Reply

Yisroel Cotlar Cary, NC August 28, 2013

In many of these stories, the lesson comes from the general idea , not the particular details, In this story, the lesson is the sincerity and simple faith of this Jew.

We are to apply this "Temimus" (sincerity) and pure faith in our Mitzvot, prayers, and service to G-d. We are not, however, meant to duplicate this exact form of Kapparot nor is the theology 100% accurate...indeed, there is so much that occurs in this world that we do not understand. Reply

Jason August 27, 2013

It's a nice story but I don't understand then end. I find it confusing:

'I'll accept my troubles as atonement for my sins, and You, in Your great mercy, shall do the same'

As far as I understand it, Moshe offers the 'trouble' that has come as a consequence of his sin as an atonement (and if it's not a consequence, then he's saying that God is personally responsible for his trouble...). But what about all the sin that is committed where the individual does not necessarily experience 'trouble'. If I steal a million dollars and don't get caught then I won't experience 'trouble'. Also, it seems that Moshe gets to judge what is sin and what isn't and what his punishment and redemption should be.

Like I said, a nice story, but theologically I find it confusing at the end.

Would appreciate an explanation. Reply

Nana-Lee Stern Voorhees, N.J. September 27, 2012

Thank you our Lord, our G-D, King of the universe...that I am still here at least for another year. To be productive, fruitful and spread positive love and good cheer from me...a grateful Reply

Angie Lusby, MD September 26, 2012

I am learning about Judaism and I really was moved by this story. Thank you for sharing and opening my eyes. Reply

Chris Hetzelt (-Pretzel.) Concord, N.H. USA October 7, 2011

Kaparot and Atonement, Conceptualizing -

Connections and Contrast; An experience

that is Individualized- Life, but - coming to-

gather Spiritually, A Faith in God which

can be Transcended to a Trust in the

Humanity in others.?..I really don't know,

My Motto is ; To Celebrate Diversity...

and I am No Authority On God...no

"Expert" on Religious- Scriptural Teaching

I don't Know-My point is that Atone sounds

like Alone; starting with Kaparot before

the Fast. Thank You. This is Blogged by; Reply

Basha Avenl, NJ October 6, 2011

If we all took time to think each day of our sins, and keep a journal, it would keep us humble and grounded, this story reminds us of the meaning of Iom Kipur, not just another fast. it is to reflect and see how we have acted, and what we can do to make it better each year. This Story is very moving and Special. I love it. Thank you for Sharing. Shalom Reply

Pierre Paris, France May 11, 2010

this is the best story ever! I like when that one Rabbi guy says he can't watch him do Kaparot. Did i mention that it was the best story EVER! Jaques showed me this story too he also thinks its the best story EVER! Reply

Jaques Paris, France May 11, 2010

This holiday ritual sounds awesome. I think that asking God to forgive you daily is a better idea than one time a year though. This holiday is the rite of penance for everyone. Anyone who reads this story will be touched in a way no one could ever imagine. My friend Pierre was. God blesses those who ask for forgiveness. God bless you....and thank you. Do you like Germans? Reply

Jaques Paris, France May 10, 2010

this is amazing Reply

Marcia, CA Chico, CA September 29, 2009

As is Tyler, the writer who posted above me, I, too, am a Christian searching for guidance very seriously after my 82 wonderful years of life in this astonishing world. How can one atone and rededicate oneself to G-d's service? How can one remain strong day after day? Moshe reminds us to ask forgiveness for the smallest transgression. In this way we can go forward with greater kindness for others and acceptance also for the misfortunes we have encountered.. Reply

Lalita Janke Vero Beach, Fl. USA September 28, 2009

So many of the holy ones teach through stories and parables. What a great way to have us remember how to forgive and communicate with G-D. Thank you Reply

Anonymous Forest Hills, NY September 27, 2009

A beautiful and insipring story at this time. Reply

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