Towards the end of the eighteenth century there lived in the city of Krakow a silversmith by the name of Yakovlev. Throughout the countries of Eastern Europe, masterworks of Yakovlev's art sold at high prices, and if the day had had forty eight hours, he still could not have produced enough to satisfy the demand for his cups, salt cellars, menorot, candlesticks, and spice holders.

Yakovlev was a solitary man who spent half his day in prayer and study of the books of the Kabbalah, and after filling his heart and soul with inspiration from the ancient sources of knowledge and wisdom, sat down by his fire, anvil, and hammers to translate his thoughts and visions into form in precious metals.

When evening fell, he stopped working and went to the synagogue, staying there till late into the night and immersing himself again in the mysterious worlds of Creation and the universe. Then, after midnight, having concluded the Tikkun Chatzot, Midnight Lamentations, with the melodies from King David's harp, he returned once more to his shop for an hour of concentrated work.

For in this consecrated spell of inspiration he wrought his masterpiece, the crowning glory of a lifetime of creating beautiful objects of art.

Yakovlev had made many a seder plate, but the one he was now working on was different. It portrayed the story of the exodus of the Jewish people from Egyptian bondage, translated into silver.

Each of its parts conveyed the miracles and tales of Passover, like a precious Haggadah chiseled and wrought with the patience of love. It was Yakovlev's supreme effort to pour out his faith in his Creator, in the language he understood best.

Yakovlev had been working on his seder plate for several years, and not a single soul had as yet set eyes on it. Even his only child, Dinah, a young girl of tender beauty who had inherited her father's deep faith and his appreciation of art, had not seen it, although he had dropped mysterious hints about his great work during conversation.

Knowing her father and his strange ways, Dinah understood that when the time was right he would surely show her this piece of art which meant so much to him.

"It will be my wedding gift to you, my child," said Yakovlev, his eyes dreamy. "For generations to come it shall convey my spirit to your children's children and teach them the mysteries of Israel's liberation from bondage. I will never sell it at any price."

Shortly after this conversation, the seder plate was at a point of near completion. Three slender columns held the compartments for the three matzot, and graceful dishes that fitted into each other were ready to receive the herbs and other ritual foods that tell the story of Passover.

A tall cup graced the center, bearing the legend of Elijah the Prophet and of the Mashiach, the Messiah. On the day that he was to bring his masterpiece to its final perfection, YakovIev did not work at all.

He spent the whole day in study and contemplation. Three times before the prayers he immersed himself in a mikvah. And then, in the middle of the night, after he had finished the last word of King David's Psalms, Yakovlev went to his shop, dressed in his holiday garb. He lit the flame and prepared to apply the final touch to his greatest creation.

His mind lost all awareness of what was going on about him. He was only "soul," purified and sanctified to the service of the Lord to whom he had dedicated his art. He did not hear the sudden noises that interrupted the stillness of the night.

Only when the drunken soldiers who had broken into his house began to batter down the doors to his shop, attracted by the light, did he look up. He saw a red, greedy face with bulging eyes and a sharp saber swinging overhead.

With a hoarse cry he jumped up and shouted, "Back, you drunkard, do not touch my sacred work with unclean hands!"

The soldiers only laughed louder, and, with coarse mockery, they bowed down before the large spread of artfully wrought silver vessels that made up the top of the seder plate.

Seizing his largest hammer, Yakovlev bore down upon the soldier next to him. But before he had swung it through the air, several sharp sabers caught him and sliced bloody gashes into his body. Each soldier grabbed one part of the silver seder plate and then, as if somehow inwardly ashamed, they left the scene of their attack.

When Dinah, awakened by the unusual noise, entered the shop, she found only the blood spattered wreckage and the lifeless body of her beloved father, dressed in his Shabbat garb.

In his right hand he still clutched the hammer, but in his left he held the tall cup of Elijah, into which he had just finished inscribing the seven-fold name of the Lord which holds the secret of Redemption.

Hot tears rolled down the young girl's face as she kissed the hand of her father, the hand that had created such beautiful masterpieces of art and of Jewish thought. She would never see his greatest work, the work meant to be her gift.

As if by magic, Yakovlev's hand opened and the large "Cup of Elijah" with its slender stem and the high chalice, decorated with scenes of the Prophet who would bring the Mashiach, rolled down before Dinah's feet.

In her dazed anguish, she bent down to pick it up. Its exquisite beauty barely seen, she stood holding the cup as her tears continued to flow.

Later she mused many times, "If this is but part of my father's gift to me, how beautiful must the whole seder plate have been."

Far from the city of Krakow, in a small town of Poland by the name of Medziboz, sat the saintly Baal Shem Tov with the small circle of his close disciples.

Late into the night they had discussed the secret ways of Providence that must lead to the Redemption of the Jewish people from Exile.

Suddenly the Baal Shem Tov stopped talking; his wise eyes seemed to have turned inward, and a deep pallor settled upon his face.

"The Mashiach will not come," he said after a painful silence, as beads of perspiration broke out on his forehead, "as long as the pieces of the seder plate of Yakovlev, the artist whose piety was matched only by his masterly skill, are separated.

He had entered into the inner chambers of the Creation, and each part of the plate bears a shem, a name, that can break the power of evil. Had they been all together they could have brought about the Redemption.

"Go, do not spare effort or money. Try to get back the separate parts of the seder plate from the brutal men who have slain Yakovlev.

Perhaps the Lord will have mercy on His people and cleanse the desecrated vessels, to make them into one complete whole again."

Years passed, and gradually some of the beautifully chiseled, hammered and wrought items of Yakovlev's seder plate drifted back. For the Baal Shem's disciples had employed many agents to find these precious pieces of silversmith artistry that had no likeness anywhere in the world.

"Give them all to the daughter of the man who created them," said the Baal Shem Tov whenever he heard of another piece being found. "They belong to her. They are her father's wedding present."

Dinah, Yakovlev's sad, beautiful daughter, refused to marry although many noble and learned young men had asked for her hand. Around the "Cup of Elijah" she gathered the pieces of her father's wedding present. The columns and compartments for the matzah had been restored. But only half of the dishes that covered the top had been found.

One day, shortly before Passover, the Baal Shem Tov sent one of his trusted disciples to bring Dinah to him. "Come, bring the Cup of Elijah with you, that we may use it on our seder table," was his message to the artist's daughter.

Large masses of people crowded into and around the house where the Baal Shem Tov celebrated the seder. Among the women sat Dinah, wondering why the saintly man had summoned her to come this far.

But she was deeply impressed by the serenity and inner joy that seemed to grip all the people who had come into the atmosphere of the house.

The reciting of the Haggadah was progressing very slowly. But no one, not even those who did not have a proper seat, would move to go home. Suddenly there was wild shouting.

Commands were heard, and a group of soldiers, led by a young officer, pushed the crowd aside and rushed up towards the center of the large hall where the Baal Shem Tov and his followers were celebrating the seder.

"Stop them! Stop them!" yelled the huge crowd, ready to overwhelm the soldiers by the sheer weight of their large numbers. But the Baal Shem Tov signaled them to allow the soldiers to pass through.

"You are under arrest, by the governor's orders," said the tall young officer who led the patrol. But before he had finished speaking, a cold sweat broke out on his face. His eyes were transfixed by the tall, graceful "Cup of Elijah" from Yakovlev's seder plate. As if in a trance, he put his hands in his pocket and pulled out several precious silver dishes, the ones that were yet missing from the top settings of the center piece.

"Here, take them from me, pray, Rabbi, take them from me," he mumbled, and, as if someone were choking him, he fell to the ground unconscious. The frightened soldiers picked him up and slowly made their way out as the crowd moved silently aside to make room for them.

"Come here, Dinah," said the Baal Shem Tov, "take them. They are yours. With these restored, your father's spirit will find peace, and the masterly work of his creation will be complete to work the mystery of the Redemption that makes every seder night the opportune moment for the coming of Mashiach if not tonight, then perhaps next year in Jerusalem."

Dinah married, and the seder plate of Yakovlev was the fabulous treasure of her descendants for many generations. It was a source of inspiration for all those who were privileged to look at its graceful perfection. But only a few great men were able to read the message of Redemption which its creator had wrought into it.