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Parshas Bamidbar / Shavuos - What's in the "Kup"?        3 Sivan 5782

06/01/2022 09:07:44 AM


The book of Bamidbar is given this name because the Jewish people travelled through the Sinai desert. I am still searching for a source that suggests the reason for the desert being named  ‘Sinai’ was due to the fact that Har Sinai (Mt. Sinai) made this desert famous because the Torah had been given on it. The Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer explains the name of Sinai is derived from the word Sneh which was the burning bush. In Shmos 3:12 the Torah states "ויאמר כי אהיה עמך וזה לך האות כי אנכי שלחתיך, בהוציאך את העם ממצרים תעבדון את האלוקים על ההר הזה" “Because I will be with you, "replied [God]. Proof that I have sent you will come when you get the people out of Egypt. All of you will “then become God’s servants on this mountain”.

While the Torah was being given, the mountain and the atmosphere surrounding it had a full light show with fire and smoke and cataclysmic effects. One might have thought it was some type of volcanic eruption taking place, but that wasn’t necessarily the case.  Though a volcano is a type of mountain, it has a v-crater, magma, and lava. Most mountains do not have any of these components. Mountain areas are peaceful and safe to visit and stay. On the other hand, volcanoes are aggressive and may erupt when least expected. Mountains may contain water, but you cannot find any traces of water in a volcano. Mountains always have elevations higher than their surroundings. However, not all volcanoes have higher elevations than the surrounding area. Some mountains such as Mt. Kilimanjaro qualify as both a mountain and a volcano. To those who are not into the geologic make-up of such things, and I’m among this group,  the main difference between a volcano and mountain is simple: one has a hole, the other does not. And if we were somehow able to turn each one over, the volcano’s contents would fall out while the mountain would hold everything in. I view the volcano as an upside-down cup with a hole in it while the mountain is a cup turned upside down to hold in its contents. Looking through my cupboard or the supermarket aisle of cups and holders, one begins to realize the incredible number of holders there are that serve so many unique and specialized designations. It is almost as if not one cup size fits all! So much for my mountain/volcano/cup analogy! But there is a point to this prelude.

The cup has a long history from the time it was first invented to the current plethora of cups we use in our daily lives. When I refer to cups I’m writing about all different kinds, from shapes and sizes, to purpose, material and disposable, They may be glass, metal, paper, wood, china, with stems or no stems, handles or no handles, you name it.  Each different style of cup may be used for different types of liquids or other foodstuffs, for measuring and for ritual washing of hands and other ceremonial events.  When we refer to glasses, however, there are an even greater variety of shapes and uses:  flute for wine, water goblets, tumblers, juice glasses, cocktail glasses, and of course the essential shot glass.

The cup, an ancient drinking device, was believed to have been invented in 1570 B.C. in Mesopotamia. It served as a wine-drinking vessel for the wealthy and the royals. It was also filled with ‘holy’ water or wine for the gods of Greece and Rome. In historical linguistics, cognates, also called lexical cognates, are sets of words in different languages that have been inherited in direct descent from an etymological ancestor in a common parent language. For example, the word boor in English has the same meaning as the wordבור  in Hebrew. I would like to take some literary privilege and suggest the word cup in English has a similar definition to the Yiddish word ‘kup’. The Yiddish word kup means head, and the cup in this context sometimes is used as a lukhin cup, meaning a hole in the kup or head. An wonderful example of this usage is the Yiddish expression: "I need that like I need a lukhin cup." (This would be said, for example, by a man in response to being asked what he thinks about buying a new boat.) That Yiddish usage would be the opposite of having a “good kup”, meaning he had a good head capable of reasoning and applying a lot of information, thinking clearly. The head, or actually the brain, is analogous  to all the different kinds of cups mentioned earlier. The head holds an incredible amount of information and compartmentalizes all in the cerebral ‘cupboard’, readily available for immediate retrieval.

Har Sinai was the ‘cup’ from which flowed the secrets and information to the existence of mankind. The Torah which Moshe brought down from heaven was given and poured out to the willing reception of the Jewish people and then, effectively, to the entire world, despite the fact that each and every nation of the world had been  offered the Torah, but each, in turn, rejected it. The giving of the Torah on Shavuos applied to the entire world; as we learned, it was given in the desert so it would be available for everyone. ‘For everyone’ does not only mean for those who choose to take it, rather the Torah is here, available for everyone. Everyone has the kup to access the Torah at many different levels. The Torah is the ONLY written work that is learned by all ages, all cultures, and all levels. The Torah, given on Har Sinai to the Jewish people, acting together as one person with one heart, demonstrates to us all that the Torah belongs to everyone. No one person or group owns the Torah.

Perhaps the most important lesson of having so much information is knowing how to use it. We need to learn how to use the Torah not only as a way of life but as the teacher of life, giving us the ability to understand how to speak to people in different situations and under challenging circumstances. The Torah has given us all the different kinds of cups and kups. If used properly, we will drink from the elixir of life. As Chaza”l said, ”Whoever is thirsty come drink, come drink from the myriad of ways and, in turn, offer the same drink to others, reconnecting us back to the original fountain of Har Sinai.  

Ah Gutten Shabbos & Yom Tov

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Fri, December 8 2023 25 Kislev 5784