Many years ago, in a little European village, there lived a decent, well-intentioned man. This man had just one fault, he was a gossip. He knew he shouldn’t do it, he felt bad about it; but every time he heard a scandalous story about one of his neighbours he had to tell it to the other neighbours.
One day, after once again telling a story that turned out not to be true, and being sternly rebuked by his neighbours, he asked his wife what he should do.
“Well,” she said, “I have heard that the rabbi in the next village is very wise. Perhaps he could help you if you asked him.”
There seemed to be a glimmer of hope in his wife’s suggestion, so he set out for the village, which was about one hour away. After being warmly welcomed by the rabbi he explained his problem. “I feel bad about it all the time, but I just can’t seem to stop myself. O wise rabbi, can you help me?”
The rabbi pondered the question a while, then said, “This is what I want you to do. Go back home, have a good night’s sleep and come to see me again tomorrow morning. Bring a pillow with you, open the seam and shake out the feathers as you walk, a few at a time, but make sure they are all gone by the time you get to my home.”
The man wondered at this strange advice, but it seemed simple enough. He would try it, even though he couldn’t understand how it might help. The next morning he walked back to the rabbi’s home in the next village. There was a little breeze and he watched as the feathers fluttered and floated away into the meadow and into the forest.
When he reached the home of the rabbi the bag was empty. “I have done as you asked,” he told the rabbi.
“Very good. There is one more thing you need to do to cure your gossip habit. As you go back home, I want you to collect every one of those feathers and stuff them back into the bag.”