Leaks, Locks and Other Kaparot

January 12, 2013
Though we are closer to Pesach than we are to the Days of Awe, the idea of kaparah in all its incarnations has been a hot topic for me the past few weeks. I figured I’d first sort through the thoughts swirling around in my head before putting them in writing, hence the longer than usual gap between postings.

Well, that, and we’ve been quite busy with repairs. More about that later.

Foremost on my mind has been the ritual side of things, but fear not. Though I have nine deer walking through my yard each morning, I have no intention of taking up the sacrificing of wild beasts as a hobby. On the other hand, it might up the ante on the gossip at the kosher butcher were someone to see me swinging a live animal around my head in the yard.

As for that sort of kapores, I have fond memories of my grandfather’s quirky interpretation of the rite on the eve of Yom Kippur. He would take money in his hand and encircle his balding pate three times, check that no one was down below, and toss the coins out the window of the apartment building onto the sidewalk. He assured me that it was always gone by the time he left for shul. 

Personally, I’ve never gone for the swinging chicken thing either, mostly because of the aroma. I also feel awful about taking it all out on a bird, even if I’m not a vegetarian. Like my grandfather, I put a few dollar coins in my hand instead and designate them the new owner of my misbegotten infractions. I swing them around for G-d to see and recite a prayer that certifies the exchange. By the time I’ve put the funds in the pushka, I can breathe easier.

This symbolic shoving of my sins out of the way and the transfer of responsibility to something that will never make me feel guilty about it gives me goose bumps. It’s a beautiful thing, all that letting go.

The other sort of kaparot, though, the ones G-d sends us year round when we least expect them, are an entirely different story. They throw me for a loop, even as we pronounce assuredly, “It’s a kaparah!” when they occur. Although it is possible that I’m just noticing them more often, it seems that they are more plentiful around here lately.

A bruised funny bone, a raw egg fallen to the floor, or a flat tire — they arrive like packages tied up in ribbon, little gifts with deeper meanings that leave me mystified. I am left to wonder whether they have wiped the slate clean, atoning on my behalf for something I have already done wrong. Or, perhaps, they have spared me from a worse fate – a broken arm, salmonella, or an accident. 

Unlike the ritual kapores in which I must take the lead, in these instances it is G-d who takes the bull by the horns. Through them He offers me a cautionary tale, warning me to watch my every step, pulling me out of my stupor, and reminding me to pay more attention to His master plan. Though He had bigger, more ominous things in store for me, He’s compassionately and lovingly allowed my washing machine to overflow into my basement instead.

I take notice, but rather than think too much about what the flood replaced in the cosmic order, I simply say thank you.

Then, two days after the laundry incident, a rush of leakage-themed kaparot – small, wet, messy things – began to greet me at every turn: spilled milk on the kitchen floor, red horseradish dripping from top to bottom of the refrigerator, sour apple beverage mix seeping out of the bottle onto the carpet in my van. 

Soon after that, we turned a corner, straight into a string of lock- and door-related kaparot.

First, the storm door handle broke, after which the front door deadbolt jammed. Just hours later, the spring on the adjacent coat closet flew out of position, making it impossible to close. And then came the final knell, when the handle on my van’s trunk door went limp.

We repaired and replaced, bemoaning both cost and aggravation. We pronounced the usual platitudes about houses being bottomless pits and rubbed our brows while standing in line at Lowe’s (again). We expressed amazement at how quickly ten years have passed since we moved into this house, and how many blessings – and vast, irreplaceable losses — we have counted in that time. 

But what, really, were all of these kaparot telling us? All of that water, all of those locks. Was there a kabalistic explanation? We worried we were veering off the right path or making the wrong decisions. But how were we to know?

Soon enough, we realized that we cannot know – will likely never know for certain – but the kaparot had surely gotten us thinking and praying. In the end, we resolved to take them at face value, to faithfully accept them as our package and as a sign that we were loved. 

With gratitude and some peace of mind, I lit candles this past Friday night, knowing that my car and refrigerator had been restored to order and that the basement was clean and dry. I locked the repaired deadbolt on the front door as my husband left for shul and rested my weary feet on the ottoman. 

Picking up a new book, I suddenly felt a chill that pointed to an expired thermostat battery. By the end of Shabbes, we realized the heating unit, too, had issues that required serious medical attention, as did the spreading pool of water beneath the humidifier. 

My husband and I just looked at one another and shrugged, unsure whether to laugh or to cry, but thankful for our flannel sheets, for our plumber Bill, for our faith in G-d’s plan, and for one another.

As I drifted off to sleep, I considered that all of these year-round kaparot were possibly sending me a message that my kapores on erev Yom Kippur need a little shaking up. 

Maybe this time around I will toss the dollar coins out the window, or I will give more serious consideration to the chicken.