Kippur & Sukkot Musings
I lost my chicken the day before Yom Kippur.
You may be wondering why that is a problem. But you see, this
was not an ordinary chicken. On Erev (the day preceding) Yom
Kippur we observe the custom of kaporot, by waving a chicken
over our heads to atone for our sins (the connection between
a helpless chicken and sins is another discussion). Yes, I
am sorry to admit that I do have my share of sins. So off
I went in search of my chicken in S. Monica.
What am I doing in S. Monica? I flew there Saturday
night from New York to lead a Yom Kippur service – a fascinating
experience of its own.
My dear friend Peter, with whom I collaborate
for the Yom Kippur service, has a chicken waiting for me.
He calls me on my cell at the Radisson Huntley Hotel on 2nd
Street in Monica. He is waiting in a SUV filled with chicken
stench. “You better get down here immediately, or else…” I
hurry down. Off we go with cackling chickens in the back,
some already used by Peter’s family. One chicken is particularly
loud. “That must be your chicken acting up,” I tell Peter.
We finally reach the slaughterhouse, and go
back to retrieve my chicken, and… off the chicken runs, clearly
aware of its impending fate. I never saw a chicken run so
fast; my sins must have frightened him to death.
Finally we corner that naughty lil’ rascal.
I have this allergic resistance to touching this chicken.
I finally grab him under the wings, walk over to the door
of the slaughterhouse, and am surprised to hear the sound
within. Mexican music is blaring out the door. First I thought
that we must have mistakenly come to a Latino disco. But as
I peek in the door, the smell and scene of the makeshift chicken
factory are unmistakably Erev Yom Kippur’dik.
And so, I did kaporos to the tune of La Bamba…
Yes, it was quite a scene.
This is how my Erev Yom Kippur unfolded on a
cool morning on the West Coast.
You may ask what is the metaphor and lesson
in all of this? And what is this thing with a chicken anyway?
Why does an innocent chicken have to die for our sins?
Honestly, I am not quite sure. Perhaps it is
just to teach us a humble lesson. Instead of escaping on Yom
Kippur into meditating on lofty concepts, the chicken forces
you out of your head and into reality. Yes, this is not just
some academic exercise; it is about life and death. It is
about holding in your hands a chicken throbbing with life
and knowing that your actions will affect the destiny of this
In my case, this particular year, I needed to
pursue this white rooster, no small feat, and look into its
blinking eyes and acknowledge that I have some things to account
for, which this chicken will not allow me to forget.
If you know me you are probably aware that I
don’t relate to the word “sin.” The guilt thing just never
got to me. What is a sin after all? The word in Hebrew for
‘sin’ is ‘aveirah,’ which means dislocate (“ha’avarah m’reshus
l’reshus”, movement from on entity to another). A sin is mode
of behavior or an action that dislocates us from our essence.
Yom Kippur is a day when each of us has the
unique opportunity to return to our true being. To reconnect
even after we have wandered off. To reintegrate who you really
are and your preoccupations.
As I have written in many previous articles,
Yom Kippur is the birth of hope. On this day Moses returns
after 80 arduous days of prayer, beseeching G-d to forgive
the people for their iniquities.
After the ‘three weeks of affliction’ and the
‘seven of consolation,’ we finally conclude the ‘two weeks
of return.’ After destruction and loss, we finally receive
the new revelation on Yom Kippur and are ready to begin celebrating
on Sukkot (see previous article titled The Three Weeks of
Pain, Seven of Comfort and Three of Return).
There is no greater celebration than the ones
that comes from returning and reconnecting to your essence.
170 days have passed since we were freed from
our limitations on Passover. 50 days of spiritual refinement
between Passover and Shavuot, when we are ready to receive
our mandate and mission. 40 more days Moses receiving the
Torah at Sinai. But then the fall of the Golden Calf. Another
40 days when Moses begs G-d for forgiveness. Yet another 40
days, that finally conclude with Yom Kippur, with Moses descending
with the Second Tablets.
Now, exactly six (lunar) months later, we are
ready to celebrate Sukkot. True joy is only possible after
having endured and undergone the experiences of great light,
deep darkness, and then the greatest light of all that is
generated by the deepest darkness.
Now we are ready to celebrate Simchat Torah.
And here I am in plastic LA chasing after a
chicken in preparation for the holiest day of the year. It
doesn’t get more hilarious, and at the same time serious in
a strange way.
I was not surprised to discover that this Yom
Kippur was one of the most memorable in my life. The prayers
came alive as we applied them to our daily lives. We experienced
a true combination of history draped in real life. The holiest
day of the year, thousands of years of prayers, beginning
with Moses at Sinai, all integrated with our struggles today
created a most powerful experience. Traveling the journey
of Yom Kippur’s five step prayer service, climbing the ladder
from prayer to prayer, through the five levels of the soul,
nefesh, ruach, neshomo, chaya, yechida (the five levels of
life: functional, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, the
essence), was exhilarating and transforming.
Indeed, Yom Kippur is a day that allows you
to leave behind for 26 hours a world of monotony and often
pain into a purer world of spirit. A world that is driven
not by pettiness and competition, with all the distractions
and tiresome efforts of trying to make ourselves feel important.
A world where you are just there and feel you belong unconditionally,
with no airs and pretenses.
If you let yourself go – and that chicken in
S. Monica sure loosened me up – Yom Kippur becomes the most
And that is the greatest cause of celebration
– the song and dance of Sukkot, when we celebrate the awe
of Yom Kippur.
So, if you find my chicken somewhere on the
boulevard, please smile and give me a call.
Whoever said that Yom Kippur can’t be fun.
As I write these words, tragic news arrives
from Israel. More lives have been torn from us and shattered
our hope that the New Year would be a painless one. I feel
strange (guilty?) to be sending you this humorous experience.
But then again, perhaps my humor isn’t that good and after
all, I don’t have any time to write another piece.
Above all, we must use this opportunity to extend
our strongest condolences to the families that have now been
devastated. “Ad mosai?!” “Viffel iz a shiur?!” – “how much
more can we take” – is our cry to G-d.
Of all things, is this the way we are asked
to enter the joyous holiday of Sukkot?!
Yet, we still are told to celebrate. And celebrate
we will – not out of oblivious denial to the losses around
us, but because every tragedy makes us ever more resolute
to forge ahead, empowers us with ever more strength and faith
to embrace our true calling.
As one Holocaust survivor once said: If anything,
the great tragedy taught us that we cannot rely on man only
on G-d. And that is the greatest cause for celebration. Every
loss of life causes us to appreciate and celebrate with ever
more intensity the gift of life and its purpose.
May we once and for all have a year of true
peace, with no more death and pain, a year of joy in which
we see in a most revealed manner how “the guardian of Israel
does not sleep and slumber.”
And may we humans do our utmost to ensure that
we protect our freedom and the gifts that G-d has given us.
May we not be stupid and foolish in the defense of all that