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A Pillow Full of Feathers

A Pillow Full of Feathers

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In a small town somewhere in Eastern Europe lived a nice man with a nasty problem: he talked too much about other people. He could not help himself. Whenever he heard a story about somebody he knew, and sometimes about somebody he did not know, he just had to tell it to his friends. Since he was in business, he heard quite a lot of rumors and stories. He loved the attention he got, and was delighted when they laughed because of the way he told his “anecdotes,” which he sometimes embellished with little details he invented to make them funnier and juicier. Other than that, he was really a pleasant, goodhearted man.

He kind of knew it was wrong, but . . . it was too tempting, and in any case, most of what he told had really happened, didn’t it? Many of his stories were just innocent and entertaining, weren’t they?

One day he found out something really weird (but true) about another businessman in town. Of course he felt compelled to share what he knew with his colleagues, who told it to their friends, who told it to people they knew, who told it to their wives, who spoke with their friends and their neighbors. It went around town, till the unhappy businessman who was the main character in the story heard it. He ran to the rabbi of the town, and wailed and complained that he was ruined! Nobody would like to deal with him after this. His good name and his reputation were gone with the wind.

Now this rabbi knew his customers, so to speak, and he decided to summon the man who loved to tell stories. If he was not the one who started them, he might at least know who did.

When the nice man with the nasty problem heard from the rabbi how devastated his colleague was, he felt truly sorry. He honestly had not considered it such a big deal to tell this story, because it was true; the rabbi could check it out if he wanted. The rabbi sighed.

“True, not true, that really makes no difference! You just cannot tell stories about people. This is all lashon hara, slander, and it’s like murder—you kill a person’s reputation.” He said a lot more, and the man who started the rumor now felt really bad and sorry. “What can I do to make it undone?” he sobbed. “I will do anything you say!”

The rabbi looked at him. “Do you have any feather pillows in your house?” “Rabbi, I am not poor; I have a whole bunch of them. But what do you want me to do, sell them?”

“No, just bring me one.”

The man was mystified, but he returned a bit later to the rabbi’s study with a nice fluffy pillow under his arm. The rabbi opened the window and handed him a knife. “Cut it open!”

“But Rabbi, here in your study? It will make a mess!”

“Do as I say!”

And the man cut the pillow. A cloud of feathers came out. They landed on the chairs and on the bookcase, on the clock, on the cat which jumped after them. They floated over the table and into the teacups, on the rabbi and on the man with the knife, and a lot of them flew out of the window in a big swirling, whirling trail.

The rabbi waited ten minutes. Then he ordered the man: “Now bring me back all the feathers, and stuff them back in your pillow. All of them, mind you. Not one may be missing!”

The man stared at the rabbi in disbelief. “That is impossible, Rabbi. The ones here is the room I might get, most of them, but the ones that flew out of the window are gone. Rabbi, I can’t do that, you know it!”

“Yes,” said the rabbi and nodded gravely, “that is how it is: once a rumor, a gossipy story, a ‘secret,’ leaves your mouth, you do not know where it ends up. It flies on the wings of the wind, and you can never get it back!”

He ordered the man to deeply apologize to the person about whom he had spread the rumor; that is difficult and painful, but it was the least he could do. He ordered him to apologize to the people to whom he had told the story, making them accomplices in the nasty lashon hara game, and he ordered him to diligently study the laws concerning lashon hara every day for a year, and then come back to him.

That is what the man did. And not only did he study about lashon hara, he talked about the importance of guarding your tongue to all his friends and colleagues. And in the end he became a nice man who overcame a nasty problem.

Text and image by chassidic artist Shoshannah Brombacher. To view or purchase Ms. Brombacher's art, click here.
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Sarai Shapiro Oakland July 12, 2016

Hi there, Where is this story sourced from? I love this story and tell it all the time to kids, but am curious if you can point to its source - or perhaps it is a folktale with no particular source?

Thanks! Reply

red March 26, 2016

seems like memory foam might be more apt. Reply

Pam FL September 6, 2013

I just read a book to my son this evening and decided to look up the "pillow" analogy online. And this is where it brought me. Never realized how much that makes sense. Love the lesson.

Also used in dialog in film called Doubt. 2008 Reply

Anonymous San Diego September 1, 2013

Just curious . . . Reply

Rick Komm San Francisco, CA November 10, 2012

"If you take the wrong road, you can always go back; but if you say the wrong thing, there is no way to take it back." What's done is done. You can't undo it; the damage is already done. All you can hope for now is to try and do better in the future. "I'm human and I blew it; that's all I can say." Reply

Carol BlacksburgV, Va July 1, 2012

It was difficult to do,especially as she laughed while I cried.
The most horrifying person I have ever faced to ask how many people have you told that you "don't like" me and she wouldn't look at me. As she shopped for a movie on her computer all she would do was laugh.
All I could do was thank God I can not be like that. Reply

Anonymous Farmington May 10, 2011

I'm still working on it and praying. Hope you are, too! Reply

Anonymous long valley, NJ April 24, 2011

i just wanted to thank you for taking the time to write your thoughts...your suggestions are good and i will try to be diligent in keeping them...
you are right. we cannot control what others do or say but we can only control how we react.that is sometimes much easier to say than to do.also, thoughts can cause suffering...so it is important to question the thoughts that bring us stress, i think. and to realize they are only thoughts...
thank you again for your kindness. and also to you, mazal tov! Reply

Anonymous Farmington, MIchigan April 10, 2011

You can't stop what someone else does; only how you react to it. Obviously, it's not easy, but you can recite the bedtime prayers in the Artscroll or Tehillat Hashem siddur. The English says, "I forgive anyone who...sinned against me..."

Also, the concluding prayer at the end of the Shabbat Amidah: "...Let my soul be silent to those who curse me..."

I figure that the more I say those, the better I'll feel, and eventually I'll be able to internalize and relly feel what I'm saying. It's really hard to forgive those that have hurt us, but I'm still trying in my own heart.

Good luck! Reply

Anonymous Long Valley, NJ April 9, 2011

This is what the Rabbi spoke about today at Temple. This is a very important subject for contemplation. For years, I have been the recipient of Lashon Hara and i feel it destroying me. I wish it to stop, and thought to send this link to those that speak Lashon Hara...but then I would be doing the same thing. I would be speaking badly of them. Is that right? What does the Torah teach regarding what to do or how to be strong enough to endure the devastation this causes? Reply

Victoria Sarasota, Fl August 26, 2010

Thank you for sharing! I have not heard this story in Temple before. Reply

Rhonda Tampa, Fl May 11, 2010

This is REAL teaching! This story really spoke to me to watch my own speech. I need to pray & ask G-d to forgive me & help me from this day forward. Thank you for posting this VERY IMPORTANT subject matter. Reply

Anonymous Farmington, MI July 29, 2009

Thank you! This perfectly illustrates what I'd like to share with some of my dear friends.

Even GOOD, happy, positive, and true information told to others about someone can circle around to cause damage or hurt to the person about whom is spoken! Reply

Shoshannah Brombacher Brooklyn , NY January 22, 2009

Dear Tikkun Olam, I think the Rebbe did elevate the person by making him mend his vice so he became convinced of the things he did wrong and could do teshuvah and help other people with his 'seen that and been there' experience. The Rebbe could not let him continue, he needed a good lesson. I feel sorry though for the person about whom the gossipy story was told. Was the damage ever undone 100%? Reply

R' Gil Bashe January 20, 2009

Beautiful story and a wonderful teaching! Reply

TIKKUN OLAM January 20, 2009

This person is damaged for life! A true Rebbe, would have lifted this person to another level, instead he has condemned this person... Reply