It was a beautiful silver kiddish cup, contemporary in design. They gave it to me as a gift, hoping to thank me for some help I had given them. Their son had maintained a long running feud with them, not even speaking with them for a number of years. They had come to see me about it before, desperate for any suggestion that might help things improve. In reality I didn’t do anything new. Just a simple, logical suggestion that I think I had made to them before. This time, for whatever reason, it worked. The lines of communication opened, the relationship began to heal, the skies brightened. They were so grateful, and the kiddish cup was just a token of that gratitude. Would I please accept it?
I loved that kiddish cup. I often used it on holidays, and it brought an added sense of sanctity to our table. Hiddur mitzvah is a term the rabbis often use – the beautification of a mitzvah. You can fulfill the mitzvah of kiddish using a paper cup to hold your wine, or a beer stein for that matter. But a nice kiddish cup adds to the sense of doing the mitzvah right. And a beautiful kiddush cup? A gorgeous kiddish cup? Sterling silver, carved design, polished and shined – now that is the proper way to say kiddish on a Yom Tov eve!
But things went awry. The son became angry with his parents again, the relationship soured in the course of a year’s time. He dropped out of their lives entirely, moved away, and they weren’t even sure where he was living. To make matters worse, the parents were upset with me. They felt I had sided with their son, that I had perhaps even encouraged him to sever the relationship. It wasn’t true, but the idea was formed in their minds. It was bad enough the rabbi had failed them, but he had also, in their eyes, betrayed them.
The kiddush cup sat on a shelf. The sense of sanctity it had once contained seemed diminished. Instead of reminding me of my great wisdom, of my rabbinic gravitas, it instead brought to my mind my foibles and failures, my inadequacies, both personal and professional. The object itself hadn’t changed – it was just as beautiful as ever. But it was tainted, no longer holy, no longer fit for use.
And yet I keep it. I glance at it now and again. Sometimes I even pick it up, remembering how the cold silver felt when the cup was filled with sweet wine. I wonder if it will ever become sacred again. Is there some way to repurpose it, to metaphorically smelt it into liquid silver and create it from scratch so that it no longer contains its bitterness and complexity?
Only time will tell. Perhaps in some future year the ragged harshness of it all will somehow fade away, and the cup will be restored (in my mind) to its former beauty. But for now it sits quietly. What did Cassius say to Brutus in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar? “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” (Act I scene ii) I might say the same thing about my cup, which of course has done nothing wrong except to be freely given as a gift.