Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

29 Av 5763 - August 27, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








The Goblet

by Channah Regev

"Boruch Hashem they've come," Dovid cried with relief. "It's about time, too. Otherwise we would have had a veritable swimming pool here."

Reb Aaron got up from his chair and slowly plodded towards the door, taking care not to tread in the puddles which originated from the washroom and threatened to flood the small apartment.

Nochum the plumber and his Arab assistant Aspor, both of whom wore muddy boots which left marks every few inches, sloshed into the washroom.

"Wow, what a leak," Nochum shrieked in amazement "There hasn't been one like this since the days of Salah-a-Din, who surely was responsible for building this house. Aspor, go to the car and bring me some more tools."

Reb Aaron watched worriedly as the plumber and his assistant prepared to saw the recalcitrant pipe, whose leaks had expanded from day to day. Dovid, his grandson, stood beside him, absentmindedly twirling the tzitzis strands that dangled from his pants.

They had noticed the leak two months before, but it hadn't seemed menacing since the water had dripped out so slowly. Reb Aaron had preferred to wait until bein hazmanim when one of the grandsons would be free to call a plumber for him. He didn't realize that the term bein hazmanim meant nothing to the pipe, whose holes grew wider, day by day.

The devoted Nochum worked on the pipe for long time, promising not to abandon Reb Aaron until his home was absolutely dry.

Dovid made them coffee in the small kitchen, and brought it into the main room. Then he placed the cups on the table which was covered by a starched tablecloth.

Nochum washed his hands and made a shehakol. As Aspor sipped his coffee, he scanned the room. Suddenly his gaze fell on a kiddush cup in Reb Aaron's small and old cupboard. The cup rested on a matching plate and was covered by a beautifully engraved lid.

"That's a beautiful cup," Aspor gasped.

Reb Aaron didn't react to this comment, while Dovid wondered why the cup interested the Arab. The expression in Aspor's eyes was far from affable. But he managed to sound friendly. "Its beautiful. Very beautiful. My uncle has one just like it," he unctuously added.

Reb Aaron suddenly began to gasp for air. Rushing to the window, he leaned on its wide sill and inhaled the aroma of the flowers in the boxes, trying to revive himself.

"Are you certain of that?" he skeptically asked Aspor.

"One hundred percent sure," he said in his distinct Arabic accent. "My uncle has a goblet just like this one. However his is an antique."

Reb Aaron was still skeptical, but Aspor continued. "Chabibi, I assure you, he has exactly the same goblet. I can bring it to you. Its base is decorated by a long series of Hebrew letters, like those on this goblet."

"That goblet belongs to our family. It's an heirloom," Reb Aaron whispered to Dovid. Then he clutched the sill to steady himself.

They say that the memory banks of the elderly open far more frequently than those of the young -- sometimes too frequently. And so, the mention of the goblet touched a particularly sensitive chord in Reb Aaron's heart.

* * *

Rivka looked out of her window and gazed at the verdant and blossoming valley which lay below the walls of the Old City. Inhaling the cool summer air, she placed her large flower box on the sill and smiled. Suddenly she noticed her elderly neighbor Ne'ima standing in her doorway. Ne'ima was the only person of Spanish descent in the Jewish, Yemenite Shiloach village.

"Where's your husband, Reb Yosef?" Ne'ima whispered, as if someone menacing was listening to her.

"He went to the new city, like he does every day," Rivka replied.

Without asking permission, the generally courteous and refined Ne'ima walked straight into Rivka's house and closed the door after her. Then with bulging, frightened eyes, she rasped. "Flee the village as quickly as you can. The Arabs are planning a massacre tonight."

Rivka sighed. Arab attacks in Kfar Silwan and Kfar Shiloach were not new. Since the days of the Turks, it was common knowledge that the Arabs despised the Yemenite Jews who had made aliya in 5642 (1842), and later built homes, synagogues and a talmud Torah in the desolate valley beside the Shiloach well. Of late, the Arabs barred the Jews from approaching the well to draw water. Every day, Arab washerwomen would gather around the site, shooing away those who dared approach.

To circumvent this problem, the Jews dug water pits near their homes, hoping in this manner to stay the strife. But it soon became clear that the water affair was only a small indication of the Arab's intense and ever-growing hatred of the Jews.

"Don't ask how I know," Ne'ima continued excitedly. "A small bird told me and now I must warn everyone. Try to leave the house quietly. The Arabs mustn't realize that we are running away. If they suspect that we have even the faintest idea about their plans they might slaughter us on the way."

"If they see you, say that you are going to . . . " Ne'ima tried to think of a good excuse.

"That I am going to the clinic in the new city," Rivka filled in without hesitation. "I'll say that my baby needs a vaccination, and that the nurse called me for a check up. That's pretty true."

"That's a good idea," Ne'ima replied. "But don't take any bundles with you which might indicate that you're moving to the new city. Let us learn from our forefathers in Egypt, who left in haste."

With trembling hands, Rivka picked up a gray cloth shopping bag which she had once sewn and which she used on the rare occasions she left the house. She took one last look at the small house, and then with a sigh and a sinking heart asked herself: "Ribono Shel Olom, what should I take?"

But there was no time to think. And so she quickly took her husband's siddur, a Chumash, and a halocho sefer his grandfather had copied in Yemen.

Then she packed some diapers for the baby, and a pair of pants for the three-year-old Aaron -- the only pair he had besides the one he was wearing. Her wedding ring was on her finger, and the bracelet her mother-in-law had given her as an engagement present was on her hand. After a second thought, she added an orange and half a bottle of milk, just in case it took a long time to reach the city. She left all of her dishes and meager food supplies on the open shelves in the kitchen, and went outside, taking one last look at the windows and the laundry lines on which the sheets she had just washed that morning were drying.

Clasping Aaron with one hand and picking up Shoshana, the baby, she left the area, pale sunbeams accompanying her along their way.

Quietly, she prayed that they reach their destination safely. "If only I could become invisible," she sighed, as she wondered which route to take.

As she looked to her right, Har Hazeisim, with its white tombstones and its olive trees whose strong trunks had seen many upheavals, revealed itself in all its glory. Her father- in-law and mother-in- law, who had fallen ill and passed away one after the other, lay buried under two of those tombstones. Only two weeks ago, her husband had finished saying Kaddish for them. In their lives, they had shared a courtyard with them, and now they were somewhere else. May they be good advocates for Eretz Yisrael's Jews," she whispered with tears in her eyes. "Apparently the Arabs mean business this time. Hashem pity us!"

As Rivka marched up the hill, Fiaza, one of the prominent women of the nearby Silwan village appeared before her in her full height. Fiaza's long, embroidered black dress accorded her a foreboding appearance. She marched forward straight- backed, a large pail on her head. Apparently, she had just finished drawing water from the well.

"Where are you going?" Fiaza demanded, as if she were the chief commander of all of the region's women. "Why aren't you in your house at this time? Are you leaving the village because you're afraid that we're planning to harm you tonight?"

"Shame on you," she then darted, as the pail on her head jostled a bit, and water spilled down her cheeks.

"I know that there is no reason for you to leave the village on a regular morning like today," she jibed with fiery eyes. "You never leave it. It's not nice of you to suspect your neighbors for no reason at all. You're insulting me."

Rivka cringed. Fiaza wasn't particularly bright or tactful, and her famous rolling tongue only confirmed Ne'ima's warning.

Rivka's mouth felt dry. Nonetheless, she managed to stammer, "I'm going to the clinic. The baby needs a vaccination and I have no place to leave her brother."

"He could stay with one of your Jewish friends, or even with me," Fiaza replied with mock generosity, and as she extended a brown, heavy hand towards the child.

Aaron began to scream and clutched his mother's skirt, inserting his small fingers between the holes of her knitted shawl.

"Let's go," Rivka determined, as she quickened her steps, drawing sudden courage from an unknown source. "Im yirtzeh Hashem we'll return."

Fiaza remained glued to her place, her hands still on her hips in a threatening pose. "Come back quickly!" she then said as a command and not as a request.

"Very quickly," Rivka repeated.

At that point Rivka was forced to choose between two paths. One path crossed the Kidron and led in the direction of the Shiloach Pool and toward Dung Gate. But there too she ran the risk of bumping into Arab women and other obstacles. The other path traversed the Ben Hinnom valley which led to the Yemin Moshe neighborhood. But from there the way to the clinic on Strauss Street was much longer. As a result, she chose the first one.

Suddenly a group of barefoot children lunged forth and tried to harass her. "We should close the gate so that the Yahud won't try to escape," she heard a boy snicker. Clutching her children, she continued to pray. With great effort, she dragged herself toward the Jewish Quarter. Climbing the hill was very difficult. At the entrance to the Jewish Quarter, Aaron became very tired, but she didn't let him rest. With superhuman powers, she lifted him in her other arm, and marched toward Meah Shearim.

She walked for half an hour, until she was totally depleted and dehydrated. From a distance she saw the gates which protected the homes in the new neighborhood. With the very last vestiges of her strength, she forced herself to advance, step by step. The baby, who until then had slept, awoke and began to cry. Rivka felt that she would collapse any minute. The long and exhausting walk, as well as her feelings of responsibility for the welfare of her family, made her burden feel far heavier than it was.

"Hashem has helped us. We have been saved," she whispered to her children, as she finally reached the gate.

"Merciful Jews," she then called out as she knocked on the gate with her meager strength. "Open up for refugees from Kfar Shiloach."

A distinguished Jew peered out from the gate's tiny window. The creaking of the gate, as he opened it was like pleasant music to her.

"Come inside," a woman dressed in a shawl said, her words reviving Rivka like the morning dew.

The small house near the gate was a makeshift guest house. A piping pot boiled on the stove inside it and gave off an aroma which warmed Rivka's heart.

"Sit down, and I'll bring you some lentil soup. You look exhausted," the woman said.

Rivka fell down on the white stool and let her tears flow freely. This time, they were tears of joy and of gratitude to Hashem for having saved them in time. The warm attitude and welcome she had so unexpectedly received melted her.

"Where are you planning to go?" the couple gently asked.

"First of all I want to notify my husband that we are here. I have no idea where we'll go. We left in such haste, that I didn't have time to decide what we should do," Rivka said as she wiped away her tears before they flowed into the bowl of soup before her. "I thought of going to my sister who lives in the Yemenite quarter near Beit Yisrael. But she has a small house and seven children. I also have a sister-in-law in the Bucharian quarter, but she also has a large family. I guess we'll have to rent a room somewhere."

After resting a bit and feeding her children, Rivka thanked the wonderful couple profusely, and headed towards her sister's house.

Her kind sister welcomed her warmly. That night, Rivka told her sister about the belongings they had left behind, wondering if she and Yosef, who had joined them, would ever be able to retrieve them.

"Everything's there," Rivka sadly told her sister. "The little bit of food we had, the dishes, the beds, the clothing, and oy the goblet! How could I forget it?"

A heavy silence filled the room, and the hearts of Reb Yosef and Rivka swelled with pain. No one had to explain the cause of their sorrow over the loss of the goblet. That goblet, which had belonged to the family for generations and had been fashioned by one of Yosef's ancestors, was a symbol. It was a magnificent and very impressive goblet, which rested on a silver plate and was covered by an engraved lid. "It's not a simple goblet," Reb Yosef's father, Reb Mordechai, would say every Leil Haseder.

"Of course its not simple," the young Yosef had once chimed in. "It's a very lovely work of art, beautifully engraved, and adorned with grape clusters and flowers."

Smiling under his black mustache, Reb Mordechai then said: "There's no doubt that it's very impressive. But it's also special for other reasons. and is very close to our hearts. We used to call it `the goblet of prayers.' While holding this cup, our grandfathers and great grandfathers prayed about the Geulah and for children who would be yirei Shomayim. I remember how my grandfather would hold the cup and tearfully pray that all his children forever after would study Torah in Yerushalayim and eventually merit to make kiddush with this cup when the Mashiach comes.

"It is a goblet of emunah and yiras Shomayim and I am certain that in the future, all of my offspring will guard it very carefully. I am certain too, that when they recall those who so fervently prayed for righteous children, they will strengthen themselves in Torah and yiras Shomayim. It isn't just a goblet, but our family's spiritual heirloom."

One story about the goblet, often related by his father, particularly enthralled Yosef: "It was the end of the Seder night. The covered goblet which had been filled to the brim stood in the center of the table. Suddenly a neighbor, who was carrying her seemingly lifeless baby, burst in. Hysterically, she cried: `Zecharya fell on his forehead, cried a bit and then fell silent.'

"My mother shook him, but the baby didn't react. My father trickled some drops of wine from the goblet into the baby's mouth, and then rubbed some drops on the baby's forehead. Moments later, Zecharya opened his eyes and began to cry.

" `That goblet is very precious,' the neighbor excitedly exclaimed. `It has many segulos.'

" `It doesn't have segulos,' my grandfather protested. `It has merits -- those of the many prayers recited when it was lifted. Its powers stem from those prayers and from the emunah of those who recited them. And since tonight is leil shimurim, it is clear that a miracle occurred for little Zecharya."

The names of seven people were engraved on the bottom of the goblet: Reb Mordechai's name, his father's name, his grandfather's name and so on down the line. Whoever received the goblet as a legacy engraved his name in that row. After Yosef had married and become a father himself he was certain that one day he would give it to his eldest son Aaron, who would engrave his name on it, and then pass it on to his sons and grandsons. The goblet was dear to his heart, and throughout the year it remained wrapped, on his closet's upper shelf, as befits a precious treasure.

"Why didn't I take it with me?" Rivka lamented the entire night, as she twisted and turned on the straw mattress on the floor. The ceiling above her was very high, and her feelings of remorse seemed to hover in the air. "It isn't heavy or bulky. I could have hidden it in my basket without any trouble at all. How did I forget it there in the closet? Who knows which hands are touching it now."

The two could have mourned the loss of the goblet for a long time, if not for the terrible news that spread throughout the city the following morning. Silwan's Arabs had attacked the Shiloach village in the middle of the night. With knives, clubs, rods and other destructive weapons, they killed the few who had been unable to flee.

"What's a goblet, no matter how much emotion and nostalgia is attached to it, in comparison with human life?" Yosef and Rivka asked as they tried to console themselves.

Reb Yosef and Rivka never returned to Kfar Shiloach. However, the few families who did return after the pogrom reported: "Your home is destroyed. There's nothing to look for there."

And so, Rivka and Yosef devoted themselves to building their new house in the Yemenite neighborhood in Beit Yisrael, where they raised Aaron, Shoshana and the subsequent children born to them.

Years later, on the 15th of Av 5698 (1938), the Jewish settlement in Kfar Shiloach totally ended, and its Jews moved to the neighborhoods in the new city.

On a dark night in the fall of 5703 (1943), two kafia-wearing figures stole into Shiloach village. Reb Yosef and his son Aaron, who was about to be married in less than a month, came to close a circle. For years Reb Yosef had wanted to go back to the place where their house had stood, hoping to find a memento of the past amidst the ruins.

In the darkness of the night, Kfar Shiloach was as silent as the nearby cemetery on Har Hazeisim. Kfar Silwan's lights had also gone out. Apparently all of the evil plotters had already gone to bed.

When they finally reached the village, father and son looked at each other in shock and horror. It was hard for them to believe that their house had once stood there. "It looks like an English town after a blitzkrieg," Reb Yosef blurted out. The Arabs had stolen everything, even the windows. The had removed the tile flooring, the marble slabs and even the frameworks which bolstered the houses.

In the darkness, it was hard for them to find the site on which their house had once stood. Nonetheless, the two crawled between the ruins and advanced toward a pile of stone fragments in the center of the area. Reb Yosef scanned the site and examined the landscape. Then he determined: "Our house was here."

A dusty rope lay on one of the stones. "That was one of our laundry ropes," Reb Yosef sighed. "We knew that the Arabs had plundered our homes and had destroyed them. But I never imagined that they had done such a thorough job. I had hoped to find at least something."

"The goblet," Aaron then whispered to himself. A vague recollection of how his mother had carried him out of the village surged. He didn't remember much about his home in Kfar Shiloach, except that it had been pleasant. However, he remembered the goblet and the many stories surrounding it. Although they hadn't hoped to find the goblet, they hoped to find at least some remnant of their past life.

But noting remained except the piles of fine dust. The goblet had vanished without leaving any trace. Reb Yosef pictured it cast in one of the houses of the thieves. Tears choked his throat as he thought of the sacred goblet which his forebears had lovingly filled with wine and had placed on the Seder table with cherdas kodesh. That goblet which in their eyes symbolized the hope for the Geula and the hope of Jews the world over that Eliyahu Hanovi would soon appear and announce that golus had ended, was no longer in his possession. That goblet which had absorbed the fervent prayers of Jews for children who would be yirei Shomayim, was lost.

That day Aaron, who had grown up on these stories and memories made up his mind to give his father a gift: a goblet exactly like the stolen one.

Ten years elapsed until Aaron managed to realize his dream. One day, he met a Yemenite Jew who was willing to make him a goblet which resembled the lost one.

Aaron wrapped the new goblet carefully, and gave it to his father as a present. Reb Yosef's hands trembled when he opened the box. For a moment, his heart skipped a beat. However the shiny and new silver made it clear that it wasn't the lost goblet.

"We'll begin a new chain for the goblet of emunah and tefillah," Aaron tried to console him. But his voice sounded hollow and unconvincing.

* * *

Aspor faced him, patiently waiting for the elderly man to wake up from his reveries. "Effendi, if you want that goblet, I can bring it to you. But it will cost you a pretty penny," he said with lascivious eyes, as he twirled his finger like one counting bills.

Reb Aaron was certain that Aspor was referring to his family's goblet, and didn't hesitate. "If you bring me it, I'll pay you $700."

Aspor didn't bat an eyelash when he demanded: "$1000 and we've got a deal."

Reb Aaron had prepared for such a situation in advance. He knew that the Middle Eastern type of negotiating wouldn't end with the first bid. At first he acted as if he was hesitant. "$800," he tried to bargain, in line with the best Arab tradition.

"$1000!" Aspor insisted.

Reb Aaron still wasn't won over. However, when Aspor firmly announced that if he didn't receive the $1000 in full, he would not bring the goblet, he yielded.

"Okay, okay , it's a deal," Reb Aaron agreed. "But I want it by tomorrow."

Aspor lightly closed the door and left. Reb Aaron was oblivious to the wind tapping his face. Yosef tried to say something to him, but Reb Aaron didn't hear him. As he sat in his armchair, memories of Leil Haseder in his parents' home in Beit Yisrael and the stories they had related about the goblet floated through his mind.

"Im yirtzeh Hashem, this year, the goblet will stand at the center of our Seder table," he told himself. "My grandchildren know the story by heart. Tomorrow, Aspor will bring the goblet . . . Tomorrow." Sweet dreams filling his heart, he fell asleep on his chair.

Aspor returned at the crack of dawn, a gloomy expression on his face. Looking at Reb Aaron, he sighed.

"Nu," Reb Aaron sighed in response.

"No cup," Aspor sadly announced. "I asked my uncle about it, and he said that he sold it to an antique dealer from Egypt two years ago."

Reb Aaron, who thought that Aspor was trying to squeeze more money out of him, replied: "I'll give you $1200 if you get the goblet back from the dealer."

Aspor's disappointed expression, though, said it all. He was incapable of retrieving the goblet.

"No cup. It's gone. I promise you, chabibi, my uncle doesn't have the cup," Aspor insisted.

The pained Reb Aaron lowered his eyes and once again sighed.

"Maybe I can find you a different cup," Aspor said in an effort to appease him.

"Never mind. I don't need anything," he notified Aspor. "You can go."

Once again, the elderly Reb Aaron felt like a small child who had lost his precious toy.

As the words, "no cup" echoed in his ears, tears streamed from his eyes. He would sit beside the Seder table that year with an imitation, while the whereabouts of the true goblet, on which the names of his descendants were eventually supposed to appear, was unknown.

Reb Aaron went over to the window and raised the shutters. Then he rested his elbows on its broad sill.

The flowers on the sill gave off a faint aroma. As he looked out at the horizon, scenes of the nearby site of the Beis Hamikdash and Kfar Shiloach, raced through his mind. "The goblet," he once again cried with a heartbreaking sigh.

Suddenly, his mindset changed, and he told himself: "Here I am mourning a goblet. True it is our family's spiritual treasure, but where are Am Yisroel's true treasures now?

"Let the tears which are flowing down my cheeks be put to even better use. Let me shed them over the Shechinah which is rolling in the dust. Let me shed them over my brethren whose spiritual heritage was robbed here in their very own land. Let me cry over Beis Hashem which is in exile, in enemy territory.

"Be'ezras Hashem, the goblet will be retrieved when the outcasts of the Jewish Nation return from the earth's four corners. Perhaps this year we will merit to sit at the Seder with all the people whose names are engraved on the goblet."


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