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The Chimney Sweeper (for the Yamim Noraim)

The Chimney Sweeper

 

Here’s a parable about the great enemy of teshuva (repentance) – procrastination.

In Europe, the chimney sweepers, the Koimen Kerrers, were looked down upon. Their work left them grimy thickly covered with ingrained dirt tar and soot, and besides the dirty layer of ash, their skin was stained and they smelled like wet ash and the residue of all the food that had been cooked in the fireplace.

There was a man, who needed to marry off his daughter, but he was a koimen kerrer, and therefore nobody would consider his daughter a suitable match.

The Shadchan (matchmaker) decided that he would try his luck in a neighboring town, where the father’s trade was not known, and indeed he was successful finding a groom for the chimney sweeper’s daughter away from her home town. As soon as the daughter became engaged, the father decided that he would do no chimney sweeping for a month before the wedding. A month would be enough time to scrape all the ash and tar off, and it would be enough time for the stains in his skin to go away, and he could come to the wedding as clean as anyone else, and cause no embarrassment to his daughter and to his family.

 

Sure enough the father stopped doing chimney sweeping a month before the wedding, but a few days into the month, he realized that money was tight he had to pay for the wedding and was struggling under a mountain of money obligations so he decided that two weeks of enforced vacation would be enough time to enable him to cleanse himself from the ingrained grime and grit, and he could try to do a couple of jobs in order to get some money together. After the two weeks went by, of course, a friend came over and said, please, my chimney is blocked and really needs to be cleaned, could you please just do this one job? Well, thought the koimen kerrer for a friend…and anyway, two weeks is plenty of time. One week before the wedding, a long time customer came over and said, look, you’ve been doing my work for years, and I don’t want to give the work to someone else, but I need the job done, and if you can’t do it, I’ll have to go to the competition. Sure enough, he decided that under the circumstances, he had to do the work, which took almost the entire week. But, he thought, I’ll really scrub myself on the day of the wedding. The stains won’t come off completely, and I might still smell a little, but a little scented soap will do the job, and I’ll still look decent. Comes the morning of the wedding, and he is absolutely determined that the morning will be spent in the sauna with a bar of tar soap, and he’ll be fine. On the way to the bath, there’s an emergency. Someone comes over and says that if his chimney is not swept, his wife will leave him, he will be made to look like a fool, he’ll die of shame, and he is willing to pay ten times the going rate for the job, but please, please, it’s just two hours of work. Well, ten times the rate! And I’ll be finished by noon, plenty of time to clean up enough for the wedding. So it’s off to work. But this is a difficult job, and it’s an old chimney, and as he’s finishing up, ma’aseh sattan (Satan’s work)! He gets stuck in the chimney. It takes three men and two ropes, but after two hours, he is dragged out of the chimney, he’s never been so filthy and smelly and tarred, and if he doesn’t leave RIGHT NOW he’ll miss the Chupah (marriage ceremony).  So he runs off to the wedding covered from head to foot in tar and wet ash and rancid grease, his clothing ripped, you can barely tell he’s human (From the book Kerem Tzvi by Reb Tzvi Hirsh Farber of London in the 1930’s).

 

The story is only funny until you realize that it’s really about how you’ve spent the entire month of Elul and what you’re likely to look like on Rosh Hashanah (The New Year).



One Response to “The Chimney Sweeper (for the Yamim Noraim)”

  1. Rivka Zeiger says:

    What a wonderful story!!!
    Rivka Zeiger

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