A man had an argument with a Rabbi and started spreading false rumors about him. This went on until he no longer felt angry and started feeling guilty. He went to the Rabbi feeling ashamed and said, “I’m sorry for the things I said about you. What can I do to make it up to you?”
The Rabbi said, “Go and collect as many feathers as you can.”
Though a strange request, the man was happy to do it to make amends and feel less guilty. He came back with a sack filled with thousands of feathers he had emptied out of pillows. The man asked the Rabbi if that was all he could do.
The Rabbi replied, “No. Now empty the sack.”
Again confused, the man did so. It was a windy day so the feathers quickly flew all over the city. When the sack was empty, the man again asked if there was anything else he could do.
The Rabbi answered, “Yes. Go and collect all the feathers and put them back in the sack, and make sure you get every last one.”
Moral of the story –
A harsh word, whether true or not, can be apologized for, but it can never be taken back, and the damage to the person’s character and reputation can never be completely undone.