THE CUP’S STORY, PART IV: PASSOVER
When I woke up, I was in the middle of a modest feast, at least by Atlantian standards. Three or four elders gumming away on mixed fruit and nuts and some large, flat crackers; half a dozen youngsters laughing and horse-playing. A middle-aged woman, whom I first took to be a servant but later decided was the matron, bustled about bringing in dish after dish and exhorting everyone to eat more.
And when I say that I was in the middle of it, I mean literally smack in the middle. Sitting in the center of the table in front of a large bearded man with a little tiny cap who was holding forth loudly enough to be heard above the hubbub. He’d just poured me full of my first drink in who knows how long—some disgusting sweet red concoction that could barely be mistaken for wine.
I was pretty much out of things. Imagine your worst hangover, then add in missing a century or two. Plus the awful taste of mildly-alcoholic Kool-Aid was making me nauseous. If I had a mouth I probably would have thrown up in the middle of their party.
The youngest kid was bugging the man to tell them a story—apparently an old favorite because everybody seemed to know it already—and he started carrying on about swarms of creeping things and the angel of death slaying Egyptian babies like it was a glorious affair. Really psycho stuff. But when he reached out and picked me up, as groggy as I was, the old psionics kicked in. The man became more intense and more elegant while the crowd grew quieter. There were tears in every eye when he described the trials of his ancestors as slaves in Egypt and the heroics of their leader Moses in confronting the Pharaoh.
When the tale was done—more because all tales must end rather than any tendency by the man to make a long story short—the whole room was steeped in silent reverence. Then the little ones quietly got up, said goodnight, and went to bed; gradually the party broke up.
Those of us with a little knowledge about Judeo-Christianity figured it out right away: it was the Passover celebration of a middle class Jewish family. Right around the time BC turned into AD, as it turned out. Afterward the mother and her mother-in-law washed the cup, wrapped her in a soft cloth, and stuck her in a trunk. Where she stayed, in the dark, without any company or sensory input for what she described as ‘a long time.’
When she was finally taken out, surprise! It was a repeat of the previous feast. The kids looked a little older but otherwise, same people, same food, same story, same results. Hey, I’ve heard this one already, The Cup thought. Let’s tell a different tale, I can make them all special. But no, it was Moses and the Pharaoh and the frogs and locusts and killing all those babies all over again. Then back into the trunk.
And so on for the next several years. The Cup was out in the light only a few hours once a year and all of her information came from that short period. But she was able to piece together most of what was going on while being handled by the father during the meal and the women before and after.
The first variation from the routine happened during the sixth Passover when Rachael, the oldest daughter, took over setting the table and washing the dishes. Probably thirteen at the time, Rachael was blossoming into a vibrant and intense young woman, with the normal adolescent mixture of happy musings and teary reflections, life as a grand party to attend and life as a great tragedy to endure. The Cup described her as ‘no Layla, but quite attractive in comparison to the coarse features of her mother. ’
When the mother and the mother-in-law cleaned up, they chatted about how much the lamb had cost this year, how tired grandpa looked, didn’t the children behave well for a change. Rachael, on the other hand, dreamed as she did household chores. Beautiful dreams of rich handsome men who would take her to wondrous far-away places like Lebanon and give her splendid, expensive gifts to show how much they loved her. The sort of dreams teenage girls have always had, up until a few years ago when they started dreaming of becoming doctors and engineers and buying their own presents and airplane tickets.
Before meeting Rachael I was always eager to get out of the trunk just because I was bored; now I became tenfold so. I wanted to share Rachael’s new dreams, experience this year’s hopes, even savor last month’s disappointments. And each year she grew lovelier, at least to my still relatively unpracticed eye.
“It seems pretty clear that you loved Rachael.”
Can a cup—even a sentient cup—love? I’ve never experienced any of those ‘crazed and confused signals’ that indicate human lust and arousal. But I got a great deal of joy out of our time together and was both quite fond and very protective of her. So perhaps ‘motherly love’ is exactly what it was.
Then when Rachel unwrapped me for my ninth Passover with them, I was devastated by the depth of her sorrow. That motherly protectiveness went into overdrive. I was determined to do whatever I could to make it better—and whoever it was that was causing her to be so sad, well they’d better not drink from me or I’d poison them!
THE CUP’S STORY, PART IV: OUTTAKES
Here’s what pissed me off about the whole telling the story of Moses thing—I made the father’s narration so moving that nobody noticed what a hateful meddler the god they worshiped was. If he’d just stayed out of it, the Jews could have left quietly and nobody would have died. But every time Moses convinced the Pharaoh to let his people go, as soon as Moses turned his back Yahweh hardened the ruler’s heart so he would change his mind.
“I don’t think it was your fault, darlin’. That story’s been part of Passover services all over the world for thousands of years. It’s been told millions of times without you. And as far as I know, nobody has made a big deal about it.”
Even if somebody thought it, they sure as hell better not have said anything loud enough for Yahweh to hear. The Israelites’ tribal god makes the cruelest of the Atlantian gods seem like a cupcake. The entire history of the Jewish people is one long tale of death and suffering, all in the name of Yahweh. The tale about Moses and the Pharaoh is just one tiny part of this saga. When Yahweh killed off all the first born children of an entire nation, the Jews were finally allowed to gather up their stuff and go back home. But then Yahweh changed Pharaoh’s mind again, and suckered a bunch more of the Egyptians into charging out into the Red Sea where he drowned the lot of them.
That must have satisfied his blood lust for a while because for the next forty years he amused himself by leading the Jews around in circles in the Sinai desert.
“Which, in case you don’t know, is a modest stretch of sand that their descendants crossed with tanks in just a couple of days not quite a decade ago.”
But Yahweh must have gotten bored with that game, so he took his tribe into Canaan and directed them to slaughter the inhabitants of the land, women and children as well as men.
“We didn’t study those parts of the Bible very much when I was in Sunday school. Mostly we learned about the ‘God is love’ parts.”
She was quiet for a minute.
Funny you should mention that. I’ll have more to say about that later.
A curious remark, but I let it go for the moment because she was in full swing.
The Jews regarded themselves as the ‘chosen people’ because Yahweh gave them ‘the law.’ Hah. There’re so many rules and taboos you’d have to study every day just to keep up. Only most of them couldn’t read, so He created priests to tell them what to do. Yahweh commanded that they not eat this or that although they could eat the other, but only if they killed it this way and cooked it that way. And they couldn’t covet their neighbor’s wife or his ox or his ass, or particularly his neighbor’s wife’s ass, even from the privacy of their own tents. And if you had a sore on your face that lasted more than three days, you had to go around yelling ‘Unclean, unclean’ any time people were nearby until it cleared up; then you went to the priest and got him to check out your face and gave him a little something for his trouble. Same thing if a woman was having her period.
“Think of the bedlam if every boy with a zit and every girl having her period went around yelling ‘Unclean, unclean’ through the halls of any junior high school.”
But the Jews had to because Yahweh said so. Weirdest of all, they had to cut the tips off the penises of all their baby boys. All the other things are sort of understandable if you realize that Yahweh is an utterly male god, without a trace of femininity. But that one’s out there, even for him.
The Cup had worked herself into a froth by now. But it seemed to be a catharsis of sorts, so I just let her rant. I was learning something new about her—she had a wide anti-religion streak. I just wouldn’t learn why for some time yet.
If you broke one of the laws but not too badly, you had to donate a bull or a sheep or a pair of doves without any blemishes to the priests. But the penalty for a serious infraction was getting stoned. Everyone within running distance gathered in the streets and yelled and laughed and chunked rocks at the sinner until he—or more often, she—died. Then they dragged her out in the desert and let the jackals and hyenas eat her because she was unclean, like she was having her period only worse, so they couldn’t bury her.
That worked OK as long as only a few people were breaking the rules. But sometimes the whole nation would start ignoring a law or two. Whenever that happened, Yahweh got really furious. So he would talk some neighboring king into invading their country, killing off a bunch his chosen people and taking the rest into captivity. There they would suffer for a few generations, until everyone who had broken the laws and their kids and grandkids and great-grandkids were all dead. Finally Yahweh would relent and have pity on them, which meant he would send them home to Palestine to slay anybody that they found there who wasn’t Jewish.
And most serious of all the injunctions? Jews couldn’t say anything bad about Yahweh. It said so right there at the head of the Ten Commandments, which were the ten most important of all the laws. Which I guess is why nobody questioned how come He kept hardening the Pharaoh’s heart so he could inflict more misery on the Egyptians.
* * *
Rachel was no Layla, of course, but quite attractive in comparison to the coarse, swarthy features of her mother.
“‘Funny, you don’t look Jewish.’ That’s the punch line of an old joke.”
The cup was quiet for a minute, and then chuckled.
“I suppose you went rummaging around in my head and found the joke. Don’t you think you should ask permission before you do that?”
Sorry, old habit. I’ll try to get over it. She didn’t sound all that sincere.
* * *
Dried me carefully, wrapped me in a soft cloth, and stuck me in a trunk. And closed the lid, although it was already pretty dark just from the cloth. After that, it was utterly quiet as well as dark. And it stayed that way for a very long time.
“I’m sorry. How did you survive that?”
You do what a cup has to do under the circumstances: you live with it. I thought happy thoughts and looked forward to seeing the light again. By the end of a year without a drink, I was pretty woozy.
That made me want to cry, except guys don’t cry. “I know I’m a couple of thousand years late, but maybe this will help.” I scooped her up, hugged her tightly to my chest, and started singing. “Lullaby, and good night, dah-dah dah dah dah, dah dah.” Like pretty much everybody else, I didn’t know the words to the second line, but it’s still better than that horrifying song about the baby crashing to the ground.
All better now, she pronounced when I quit singing and hugging. But you know what? You’re the first person who’s ever done that to me. A girl could get used to that.
Made me feel pretty good.