Sukkot: Has Anyone Found my Chicken on S. Monica Blvd?

PRINT

Yom 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…

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 creature.

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.

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.

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 powerful cleanser.

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 we cherish.

PRINT

Did you enjoy this? Get personalized content delivered to your own MLC profile page by joining the MLC community. It's free! Click here to find out more.

1 Comment
Newest
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Rina Deych
15 years ago

My religious beliefs (or lack thereof) have nothing to do with my intense love of my Jewish heritage. My mother, though she was an atheist, had grown up with orthodox parents and had developed a strong spiritual connection with her Jewish roots.

I lived in Israel as a child briefly (from ages 5 to 7 1/2) and Hebrew was my first written language. Throughout the years, we celebrated the Jewish holidays, reciting the blessings and decorating the house (whatever we happened to call home that year, including our tiny converted garage in Tucson, Arizona, where we lived in the late 60s) with ornaments we made by hand for each occasion.

At this time around the Jewish New Year, I suppose I should feel a sense of renewal and joy.

But, living in the ultra-orthodox neighborhood of Boro Park, Brooklyn, I dread it.

This is the time, immediately after New Years and before Yom Kippur, when crates of live chickens are delivered to store fronts, school yards, synagogues, and parking lots with makeshift tents. A sign saying Kaporot adorns the area along with the stench of fear and death. People line up to participate in one of the most barbaric acts I have ever personally witnessed. A live chicken is swung around each persons head 3 times then has its neck sliced open to bleed to death. This procedure is repeated for each family who pays the fee. The blood, Im told, represents our sins flowing out so that we may begin the new year with a clean slate. Our sins.

It brings to mind an event I attended in the 80s at the Museum of Natural History. It was a seminar on Santeria (a cult combining Christianity and Yoruba or Voodoo, whose practices include animal sacrifice). The seminar was an entire week long, however I, along with a group of animal activists from Trans Species Unlimited, only attended the evening they were to discuss the subject of animal sacrifice.

We entered the museum and interspersed ourselves with the rest of the audience, the majority of whom were Santerians. A panel of Santerian scholars including a psychologist, an anthropologist, a Santero (or Santerian priest), and an author/Santera by the name of Migene Gonzalez-Whippler sat on stage.
There was music playing that was hauntingly hypnotic. I remembered feeling sad that people who created such beautiful music could participate in such a heinous practice as animal torture and sacrifice.

After awhile, the music ceased and Whippler stood at the podium and greeted the crowd of about 500.

As soon as Whippler began her opening speech, several Trans Species members (including Steve Siegel, the President of the organization) jumped up and unrolled huge posters of mutilated animals. As much as I could appreciate the sentiment, it seemed of little use to try to appeal to them on that level since most of the people in the audience were already practitioners of Santeria and it obviously didnt bother them. Whippler became infuriated and ordered the museum guards to immediately remove the protesters. Some in the crowd threatened the activists as they were escorted out of the auditorium.

For those of us who had chosen not to take part in the poster activity, (there were a handful of us left, including Sylvia Sterling from the cable show Animal Rights Forum and Bill Strauss, an ASPCA attorney) Whippler set up strict rules.
She angrily declared: OK, since you people do not know how to behave, you will NOT be allowed to make any comments. I will only accept one question from each of you.

We were instructed to line up in two of the isles and wait, in front of a microphone, for Whipplers permission to ask our one question each. People in the crowd were heckling and threatening us.

When it was my turn, I stepped up to the microphone and said I have a two-part question. The first part is: since religion is such a spiritual thing and we use things symbolically – for example, Catholics use the host and the wine instead of cutting up a live person to represent the body and blood of Jesus Christ – why cant you cut open a peach, and let the juice that drains out REPRESENT the sin-filled blood? That way you wouldnt have to hurt anything. There was a hush in the audience. No one said a word. I went on: the second part of my question is: why do you use animals to represent our sins? Animals dont sin. Only people sin. Again, there was silence. I didnt expect an answer. I didnt even expect to change any minds. I just wanted to make people think. To plant some seeds.

The barbaric and archaic ritual of Kaporot is no different from the brutal animal sacrifices of the Santerians.
They are all the same. These people dont get it.

As Professor Richard Schwartz points out in his article entitled The Custom of Kapparot in Jewish Tradition, if transference and subsequent expulsion of sin through the killing of an animal were possible, it would eliminate the need for Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. There is no logical explanation why these practices should continue. But its not about logic. Its about faith. Blind faith.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. once said Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith. I consider the capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile.

I would have to agree.