Every morning in Radzyn, each man and woman rose with the sun and spent each moment of the day perfecting their craft. Each person was built for their tafkid, and once they realized what it was, the real work began. For one man, it was baking, mastering the preciseness and preparation of an expert baker. For another, it was teaching, mastering the compassion and understanding of an expert teacher. For yet another, it was something hidden that only he was aware of, mastering an aspect of his soul that needed mastering. Whatever they had devoted themselves to, they all served the struggles and triumphs of their dedication wholeheartedly, and with a smile.
And, each morning until now, Koppel had followed suit. He’d don his tallis and tefillin to pray to his Creator, unlock his workshop, sit on his short stool, and begin to shape silver into the approximate form he willed for it. It would be difficult to imagine a day without the sounds of his scraping, hammering, and laughing projecting from his small silversmithing workshop on the street leading to the Rebbe’s house.
This morning, however, he lay on his side, and listened to himself breath lightly onto the hard pillow between his head and his hand. The night had been long, and in between tosses and turns, what was once uncertainty turned to fear, and the burning it caused in his gut was too dreadful to tolerate. The only thing worse than leaving his bed, would be staying in bed any longer alone with his thoughts.
He swung his feet onto the floor, mumbled an uncertain Modeh Ani, washed his hands, and stared at the wall.
Doubt, that ever present hint, began to slowly unravel and take form.
He wished he had never looked inside the package Shmuli had left in the workshop. The question he now grappled with began as mere curiosity, abandoned to fester inside an unsteady mind. Left unattended, it might have simply remained a memory whose potency was never more than a drink or two away from being neutralized. However, even Koppel knew he could not ignore this one. He was given a glimpse of the present state of his soul, and feared taking another step forward until he understood its entire landscape.
“Koppeleh,” his wife Perel mumbled without opening her eyes. “Are you going to work today?”
When he placed his thumb and forefinger on the string surrounding the package, his only drive was seeing what his competition was offering. He told himself that it was strictly a matter of business. When he pulled the string, the wrapping came apart so easily, that he told himself his fate must be to explore further.
With both feet planted firmly, he leaned forward, and that’s when the doubt began.
It was a silver kiddish cup.
Koppel stared inside, and suddenly the familiar words uttered to the first man to ever delude himself before the King of Kings echoed in his head. For a brief moment, although he was alone and every other man in Radzyn was at mincheh, he was no longer able to hide.
He lifted the cup from its case, and held it in his left hand. Its base was intricately carved with thin roses and thick vines, intertwining and layering over one another like they had grown together for centuries. It was light, but not without proper weight, and although it was relatively small, it seemed to be holding Koppel himself. It felt to Koppel as if it were created first, and only afterwards the world around it. The surface of the cup was simple. No engravings, no designs, just a fine silver to which careful attention had been paid to shaping it just so. Its form so seamlessly followed function, it was as if the silver it was made from was destined to take this shape, and could never have been otherwise.
This piece, he thought, was less a kiddish cup than a mirror, begging its owner to fill it with wine on Shabbos and ask himself the question he had ignored all throughout his week. It was a whisper, and it was a scream, gentle and brutal, so perfect it awakened him from a dream he had not dared to consider he was having.
If Koppel had not spent the past twenty-one years shaping, hammering, and engraving silver, he may not have noticed the expertise with which it had been crafted. But even he knew that that was only its beginning. Anybody could learn to polish silver with enough time, but this?
Whoever made this holy object was a silversmith.
Koppel returned it to its box, and backed away towards his desk. The stakes, mandrels, and razor sharp scrapers that hung from the wall beside it laughed at him. His stool, on which he sat glaring mischievously like a child through the window at the man across the street, made his stomach turn.
If this kiddish cup was what Nosson had been doing, what exactly had he been doing?
This was the question that kept him in bed this morning.
“Koppeleh,” his wife Perel said again, this time opening her eyes. “Are you going to work?
Koppel did have an answer for her, one which he desperately wished he could say. “I have a headache, like I do every morning. I will go read words from a book surrounded by other men reading words from a book, then sit on my stool in front of a window and wait for something to make fun of. I’ll find the deepest, most special, point within it, and then tear it to pieces. Because, my love, that’s what I’ve mastered. Silver will be scraped and hammered in between these moments of boredom, but for all the zloty in Radzyn, I will not care to remember any of it a few days from now."
“Am I -?,” he started to ask.
Koppel paused. Once he said it, it would become real.
“Are you what?"
“Nevermind,” he said between clenched teeth. “Nothing.”
She looked at him quizzically. “I don’t get it,” she said, and turned over.
Koppel heard an unfamiliar voice in the doorway. It was Nosson.
“I’m sorry to bother you.”
Koppel did not dare say a word.
“Is it possible somebody returned a package to your shop last night? A customer of mine misplaced it, and I know these things sometimes happen.”
Koppel looked down at his floor, which rejected him with every crack beneath his weight.
“What sort of package?”
Koppel smiled brightly and nervously. “The sort of package that cannot be replaced.”
Koppel knew it would just take one word, maybe even one nod, and that, would be that. Instead, he straightened his back and looked Nosson straight in the eye.
“Well, then, he’d better find it.”
Nosson backed away gradually until he was outside. He had recognized the look in his neighbor’s eyes; he had seen it many times before. He had seen it in the eyes of every customer who had ever walked into his shop to gaze at his creations.