What does it mean when we say that a person possesses a "Yiddishe Cup" (defined as a "Jewish head" or "Jewish way of thinking")?
Throughout history, it has meant being good in school or exceeding in business, even to the extent of, say, outsmarting one's opponents. But the following story about the four cups of seder wine provides a far different –and truly liberating — definition of this almost clichéd concept.
A woman once approached Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik of Brisk with a strange question. She wanted to know whether one could use milk instead of wine for the four cups of the seder, since she simply couldn't afford the wine.
He responded by giving her a large amount of money.
Asked the rabbi's wife: "I understand you gave her money because she can't afford the wine, but why so much?"
The rabbi explained, "If she wants to drink milk at the seder, it is obvious she has no meat for Pesach" (since the laws of kashrut forbid mixing milk and meat). "So I gave her enough to buy wine and meat for the entire holiday."
The Wise Son
In my opinion, this is a perfect rendering of what it means to be the Wise Son. The rabbi in this story is known to have been a great Jewish scholar, who gained a masterful mental dexterity through his immersion in talmudic thinking.
The Talmud is famous — among many other things, of course — for beckoning its explorers to recognize subtleties and fine distinctions, engage in solid logical deductions, and so attune themselves not only to what is being said, but even to what is not being said.
The question is: When people subject themselves to careful, calculated reasoning, how will that analytical power translate into human interactions? Will it lead them to coldly react to another person's plight through a flight of philosophical fancy, or will it lead them to find resourceful ways of warming to the task?
The Rabbi of Brisk has elegantly pointed us down the path to true wisdom.
Delving into the depths of Torah and talmudic waters can elevate us in an infinite number of ways.
But one of its greatest powers is that it can teach us to hear what people are truly saying behind their words, thereby enabling the listener to discern the speaker's true needs and respond accordingly with acts of kindness.
When wisdom is used to serve the purpose of goodness, then the primary goal of wisdom is achieved. When the mind passes its knowledge through the channels of the heart, then a primary goal of humanity is achieved.
So who is the one with the true "Yiddishe Cup"?
That would be the one who uses his or her chachmah ("wisdom") for the purpose of chesed ("kindness").
Have a wonderful and liberating Pesach!
Jon Erlbaum is executive director of The Chevra (www.chevra.net), a group for Jewish young professionals and graduate students that provides social, educational, cultural and spiritual experiences.