What Does “The Food Is Cooked In A Pot And The Plate Gets The Honor" Mean?
Shpeiz kocht men in top un koved krigt der teller.
One of the most important Jewish mitzvahs is the giving of charity, or Tzedakah. Most Jewish households have at least one pushke, a container in which Jews collect this traditional tithe. Although there are many elaborate and ornate vessels on the market, households with children have no shortage of coffee-canister-turned-pushkes made by chubby kindergartners or (even chubbier) sunscreen-slick preteens at Hebrew camp. Or perhaps I’m just projecting. ... Regardless, Tzedakah is serious stuff for Jews, so much so that understanding it simply as “Jewish charity” is not entirely accurate.
The word is derived from the Hebrew root:
“That which is fair, right or just.”
So while the concept of charity implies an extraordinary act of generosity, Jews simply view Tzedakah as their duty; to provide the unfortunate with what they rightfully deserve. (Somewhere out there, a little piece of Rush Limbaugh just died. How’s that for icing on the cake?) Furthermore, as with traditional almsgiving, the highest levels of Tzedakah involve anonymous giving.
Fun Fact! What’s the very highest? Anonymous giving that makes it possible for a person to become self-sufficient. Very cool.
And that’s fine. No one’s asking for a parade or anything; who wants to schvitz like a chazzer in the sun all day? And all that useless waving? Who needs it!? … Where was I? Oh yes! With all this unnamed giving going on, in our personal lives many of us find ourselves, shall we say, compensating ever so slightly. I mean, dutiful donations sans recognition are one thing, but hell if we’ll sit idly by and let someone else take the credit for being the first one to stumble upon a hilarious video on YouTube or, worse, for coming up with an original joke or recipe! Ridiculous! Or maybe it’s just me ...
Regardless, nowhere on any level of the Tzedakah does it say we should aspire to act as passive pots to the trombenik plates of the world (metaphorically speaking, of course). Not going to happen! Perhaps you can tell this proverb pushes some buttons for me? Well, yes, how perceptive of you! You caught me. While I always strive for completely unbiased, objective analysis (I said strive), in this case I feel too strongly not to make an exception. This proverb happens to correspond with a serious (and admittedly compulsive) need of mine to “get credit” for the most trivial of tidbits, and the subsequent irrational rage that bubbles forth when said credit goes unassigned—or, G-d forbid, is given to someone else! It’s quite the paradox, really: fulfilling the mitzvah of Tzedakah with zero fanfare doesn’t faze me a bit, but G-d help me (and Ben) if my husband doesn’t give me credit every time (and I mean every time, for the rest of time) he references a restaurant, musician, or book that I and I alone discovered (in mixed company, alone in the car, or whatever). … I know I sound meshugga, but who’s the one who willingly proposed to this nut, and married her yet? Anyway, where was I? Oh yes! Well, my endearing idiosyncrasies aside, we must address the serious problem at hand: how to ensure the unpresuming pot receives its accurately-allocated accolades and the pirating plate takes a back-seat. The solution? I propose a (convenient 4-step) revolution!
- At next year’s Seder, I encourage you to grab that charlatan of a Seder plate (how dare it sit there in all its decorative fraudulence acting the centerpiece! Tuh!) and throw it through the nearest window, or to the ground. (If the dining room is carpeted, I encourage the former option; otherwise, just go with your gut.)
- Head directly to the kitchen and retrieve the self-effacing pot from the sink’s sudsy depths. (Remember to breathe through your mouth to avoid the stench of sulfur. … Bubbe, in all her lovable paranoia, still insists on boiling the eggs for G-d knows how long to kill even the distant memory of any salmonella.)
- Return triumphantly to the dining room (stay focussed—there'll be plenty of shouting) and climb atop the folding table (you may need to use uncle Sal’s bald head to steady yourself).
- With feet planted firmly (this might be a good opportunity to “accidentally” step in aunt Ida’s carrot kugel, thus preventing anyone from “enjoying” it this year ... darn it), raise the humble cookware above your head and, in your most confident voice, proclaim that “From this day forward, the pot shall take its rightful place of honor in the center of this Seder table!”
… Look, at the very least, all that running around will keep you from nodding off.
While writing out the bills one evening, Bluma hears the distinct sounds of exaggerated footsteps coming down the stairs. She’d know them anywhere: the signature cue that her eldest daughter, Mayah, originated to alert everyone within 100 yards that she is displeased—or, as she often puts it, that her life is over! (If this were truly ever the case, Mayah’s number of lives would rival a litter’s worth of cats.) Sure enough, Mayah appears in full pout and flops down in the chair opposite her mother. Bluma smiles to herself at how her daughter, at 18, can embody all the poise of a woman 10 years her senior one moment, and regress to middle school-levels of immaturity the next. …
Mayah: “This is so colossally unfair!”
Bluma: [without looking up from her work] “What is, dear?”
Mayah: “Hello! Miriam?!”
Bluma: [looks up] “I’m going to need more information. And would you sit properly? You’re going to ruin my chairs.”
Mayah: [lets the chair fall forward onto all four legs, then whines]: “Maaaa, you’ve gotta be kidding! I know what you and Daddy are planning! I heard you guys talking. I know you’re getting Miriam a car for graduation!! I can’t believe you guys! I graduated last year and I got bubkes!”
A look from her mother forces Mayah to admit …
Mayah: “OK, fine, I got to go to New York with my friends, but still! A car?!?”
Bluma: “First of all, my dear, you sound like a spoiled brat. Second of all, not that I need to justify your father’s and my actions to you, but it’s a used car. And most importantly, this is a major accomplishment for your sister. You know we weren’t even sure if she was going to graduate. Your father and I want to recognize what a big deal this is. Besides, Zeyde gave you his car when you turned 16, and I don’t think you want a second insurance payment just to go tit for tat with your sister.”
Mayah: “Yeah, well, who do you think got Miriam through high school, basically single handed!?! I’m the one who’s been tutoring her since junior year and, no offense, but I totally basically wrote half her papers for her! If it weren’t for me, she’d be a super-senior like that creeper Jeffrey Manning with the receding hairline!”
Bluma: “He’s a student?! My G-d, I thought he was the phys ed teacher! Yikes. Anyway, Mayah, you know we appreciate how much you’ve helped Miriam, but what can I tell ya, kid? Like my Bubbe used to say, sometimes in life, The food is cooked in a pot and the plate gets the honor.”
Mayah: “You guys suck.”