Erev Yom Kippur
Kaparos in Lizhensk
A day before Yom Kippur Rav Elimelech of Lizhensk was visited by a chassid, who pleaded and
strongly entreated [the rebbe's gabbai] to be allowed to watch the Rebbe shlog kaparos (the custom
where one waves a fowl over the head on erev yom kippur to symbolically take the place of one's sins).
As soon as the Rebbe Elimelech heard this he called the chassid in to him and told him to quickly take
a trip and travel to such and such village situated not far from Lizhensk. Once there he should go to the
local tavern. The chassid dutifully followed the rebbe's orders and when he entered the tavern he found
it full with drunk peasants among whom the local innkeeper; a simple and ignorant looking Jew
together his simple ignorant looking Jewess was busy serving and attending to. The chassid hid himself
in a unnoticed corner and feigned sleep, keeping watch with one eye open and waited. . .
After midnight when the drunk peasants had stumbled and been pushed and shoved out the door, and
the windows and doors were locked and barred, the chassid watched the simple innkeeper pacing back
and forth until he said finally to his wife, "Bring , me the book from under the bed." She schlepped an
old well worn volume and handed it to him. The innkeeper sat down by the table and began thumbing
through the worn pages reading aloud while turning page after page, "On this and this day of such and
such week I did not properly attend to a poor traveler and so I failed to fulfill the commandment of
welcoming guests, and on a different day I listened to the vulgar language of one of my customers, on
another day I failed to concentrate during my prayers and I had foreign and extraneous thoughts," and
so on did the list of sins continue, since the ledger was a book full of the records of all the sins and
transgressions that he had committed that past year. After reciting many of the sins, the innkeeper
sighed deeply, and there were many times that he wept quite bitterly after reciting a particular sin.
After he had finished, the innkeeper once again motioned to his wife, to bring the second book which
lay in the corner under the other bed. Again she schlepped a second old and worn volume and handed
it to him. Once again he began to turn pages while reading aloud. This ledger contained an accounting
listing all the woes, troubles and sorrows that had befallen the innkeeper and his family that year. The
list was quite long since there did not seem to be any day that something had not befallen them. And
when the innkeeper finished reading from the second book he lay his head down on the table, while
deep in thought. Afterwards he looked up to heaven and declared, "Ribono Shel Olam! - Master of the
World, I am quite guilty, I owe You quite a lot, but You also have a great debt that You owe me so to
speak! I do not know whose debt is greater, whether min or Yours? The reckoning is simply too great
and difficult to work out. Therefore Ribono Shel Olam! - Master of the World, let us make a trade, my
debt for Your debt? This book for that book, my ledger of sins for Your ledger of troubles. "This is my
exchange, this is my atonement," said the innkeeper as he echoed the well known liturgy of the
kapparos as the innkeeper swung the books above his head like one does with the kapparos chicken.
Afterwards the chassid traveled back to Lizhensk to Rebbe Elimelech. The Rebbe greeted the chassid
with a smile, "Nu, so what did you see there?" The chassid told the Rebbe all he had witnessed. Rebbe
Elimelech then said, "This complaint which the innkeeper had, King David had as well against the
Ribono Shel Olam The Master of the World, and that is the meaning if the verse in Tehillim 31
"Hashem all my sighs and desires opposite You are not hidden from You." It is true that my desires
oppose You, however my sighs are not hidden from You either. So let's make a deal and make an
exchange. Now do you know how to truly shlog kapparos?"
(As heard from Rav Yechezkel Michelson, Fun Unzer Alten Otzar p33-34)
R' Tal Moshe Zwecker
Director Machon Be'er Mayim Chaim
Chassidic Classics in the English Language
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