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His highness looked briefly at the gentleman who was being ushered into the throne room. It seemed that the figure met with the king's approval. He nodded slightly, and began to speak to the middle-aged visitor.
"We understand that you are an artisan of the highest caliber. We would like you to use your talents and skills to create for the throne a chalice of such perfection that its like has never been seen. It must be the finest example of your craft which has ever been produced."
John Geltner – for that was his name – bowed before his majesty. His mind raced and his heart pounded with delight. What a golden opportunity! He would be given all the materials he needed, with a generous hand. His highness would provide the finest tools that money could buy. Fame and fortune would be his without end. Yes, here was a chance to prove to the world that he was, indeed, the finest goldsmith the kingdom could boast of.
"It will be my greatest pleasure," answered Geltner. "I thank his majesty for trusting me with this assignment, and shall do my utmost to prove myself worthy of the task. Please allow me an entire year to complete it. It will require a troy pound of pure gold, three hundred diamonds of at least one karat each, rubies and emeralds and sapphires. All this, of course, is in addition to my fee of ten thousand gold crowns a month."
His highness agreed readily to Geltner's terms. Nothing was lacking in the royal palace. The king's treasury held all the diamonds, rubies, and other gems that Geltner needed. In addition, the king gave orders to make a payment of ten thousand crowns to the goldsmith on the first day of each month.
Geltner soon set to work on the chalice. In the past, he had been a hard working artisan, demanding only the best work of himself. Now, however, his life changed dramatically. Suddenly, he had 10,000 crowns at his disposal, every month. There was so much to do with his new wealth that it was hard being a goldsmith, when there were so many new pleasures in life that he could enjoy.
He developed a taste for expensive wines, and invested in rare gems for his private collection. His wife quickly learned to dress at the height of fashion, and kept pace with the latest styles and fabrics that appeared at court. He hired the best tutors for his children, and a slew of servants for his new residence. The cook who had been with the family for over a decade was no longer considered competent enough for the family’s newly-acquired tastes. Now they required the services of a chef especially brought from France in order to cater to their more refined taste buds.
Each month there were new expenses, as the family’s standard of living soared beyond anything they had imagined only a few months previously. Soon the king’s generous allowance of ten thousand crowns a month was no longer enough to cover all the wages and expenses.
There was more than enough gold available in the workshop, so here and there, Geltner began to sell a bit of gold, or a diamond or two that the royal treasury had provided for the chalice. He would spend an hour or so in his workshop, and then leave to go hunting with his new friends at court, or go off with his wife to a banquet or party at the home of one of the nobles in the district.
Often, he was so exhausted from his social pastimes that he could not concentrate on the craft that had brought him to the royal court in the first place.
Every so often, he would remember that the day would come when he would be called before his highness to present the fruit of his year’s effort. Then he would apply himself to his craft more diligently for a day or so, but soon enough, a friend dropped in to invite him to a hunt or some novel celebration. Then he dropped his tools and ran off to enjoy himself, forgetting completely about the chalice and his commitment to his highness.
Eleven months went by. A messenger arrived from his highness, to remind him that there remained only one more month until the year’s time would be up.
Suddenly, John became a serious craftsman once more. He took a long, hard look at the unfinished chalice, and was overcome with remorse. He had started out with a full measure of gold, but now there was only a fraction of what the king had given him. And what of the diamonds and other gems? They, too, had gradually disappeared. And what of the work of molding and shaping the design of the chalice itself? This, too, fell sadly short of what his highness expected him to produce. It was simple in design, and poorly formed. How could he possibly present such a piece of work to his majesty?
But there was a full month left, he told himself. He promised himself that he would throw himself into the task at hand, day and night, and create a masterpiece that would bring credit to the crown.
Now, when his new friends invited him to join them for their parties and adventures, he turned a deaf ear. He had no thought for anything but the chalice and the imminent deadline. He made the most of each day, working late into the night, hardly stopping to take a bite to eat. Hour after hour he added fine detail to the design, a swirl here, and a cluster of grapes there, a row of scallops along the base. In the center, he engraved the royal coat of arms. He used every ounce of strength and talent that he could muster, and the results were, indeed, breathtaking.
Perhaps, he told himself, he would manage to please the king after all.
The month went by in a flurry of activity for Geltner. On the final day, he dressed in his finest attire. The chalice was packed safely in an elegant case.
As his elegant carriage took him to the royal palace, John wavered between two extremes. Would his highness be impressed with the fine work he had done, and forget that he had supplied far more gold than was in the chalice? Or would he notice at once that the chalice was too small, and the precious gems were missing?
The carriage came to a stop. John climbed out, on legs of rubber, bearing the precious chalice in its case. His heart thumped within him; his legs carried him mechanically as the guards led him to the throne room.
How vividly he recalled the day, just one year previously, when he had first been summoned to the palace. How full of hope he had been then! What a magnificent chalice he had pictured to himself when his majesty first commissioned him to create a masterpiece of perfection!
And now? What had he done with his year, with the heap of gold and gems the king had showered upon him? What did he have to show for it all?
A voice interrupted his thoughts. He was in the throne room, bowing to his majesty. The dreaded hour was upon him. He must now open the case and display the fruit of his efforts for one and all to scrutinize. Would he pass the test?
He gently drew the chalice out of its case. Even his majesty leaned forward to catch a glimpse of it, as it was brought to him on a silver platter. Polished to perfection, it was indeed a masterpiece. His majesty was obviously impressed, and pleased. John began to breathe more freely. He even allowed himself a hint of a smile. Perhaps all would be well, after all.
The king examined the chalice from every angle, and expressed his admiration. Indeed, he seemed to be quite satisfied with John’s work, and willing to reward him fully. Two ministers who were standing close-by also praised the delicate design and fine workmanship.
Geltner began to feel himself a master goldsmith again. He enjoyed the words of praise that were on everyone's tongue. His nightmare was over, he told himself. The chalice was a success after all!
Then the minister of the treasury, Lord MacPeid, stepped forward. “With Your Highness’ gracious permission,” he said to the king, “might I suggest to weigh the chalice and review the list of materials supplied to the honorable artisan who has produced this amazing piece of work for the crown.”
The goldsmith felt his knees buckle beneath him. His face turned white as he watched the servants bring in a set of scales. The chalice was set on one weighing pan; everyone watched intently, as small weights were added to the upper pan.
How Geltner wished the earth would open up and swallow him up! While everyone else stared at the scales, he could only look downward, at the highly polished marble floor that refused him refuge. Not only did the elegant marble refuse him refuge in his disgrace; its polish reflected his image back at him as he hung his head in shame.
“The chalice weighs just over one half of the amount of gold provided,” announced the Lord MacPeid. “Where is the rest of the metal? And the jewels his majesty gave you – the diamonds, the rubies, the sapphires and the pearls?
"How dare you betray the trust that his majesty placed in you?”
The famed artisan, John Geltner, could not lift his face for shame. All there remained for him to do was to fall at the king's feet and plead for mercy. "In the merit of the pleasure I afforded his majesty with my work, please forgive me!" he pleaded.
There was nothing more he could say.
We, too, find ourselves shamefaced at the end of the year. If we take the time to count our blessings, we find that Heaven has granted us much to be thankful for.
And what have we done in return? How have we said thank-you? Have we proved ourselves worthy of the King's trust in us?
Are we not somewhat like John, who presented his sovereign with a chalice that was far less than the full measure due? Did we use all the blessings and gifts for the purpose our King intended them?
Most of us find ourselves in the position of the goldsmith who purloined a fair amount of the precious materials entrusted to him for the king's benefit, not for his own personal pleasures.
During the month of Elul, we intensify our efforts to correct our ways and to produce at least something of a "chalice" to present to our Maker on Rosh Hashanah. We concentrate more on the words of our prayers, and seek additional acts of kindness and charity to add to our merits. While we cannot compensate for an entire year in the twenty-nine days remaining to us in Elul, we attempt to salvage what we can, in order to prove our sincere regret and hopes to improve.
We do our best to produce a beautiful, if smaller, chalice. Once it is ready, we present it to our Maker as a token of our repentance and our intention to mend our ways in the future.
Once we have produced this demonstration of our hopes to improve, we can ask and plead for mercy from the Merciful Father who delights in our return to Him. Though it be little, and lacking, if we produce a fine chalice it will be our key to open the Gates of Repentance and Forgiveness, even for so severe an offense as betraying our Sovereign's trust in us. Small as it may be, a well-crafted chalice proves our desire to mend our ways.
With this chalice in hand, we may now turn to the Father of Mercy, and ask that He grant us, and all Israel, a year of blessing, good health, and happiness.