The Story of the Suitcase and the Plastic Cups

A Yom Kippur Message

He was a businessman, a father and grandfather. He was an educated and informed man – proud of his heritage and his people. He exuded confidence in his achievements and his success, and a soft spoken dignity and strength. His business was profitable and growing, and he enjoyed a good name in his industry.

I had the opportunity to visit with Mr. Kaplan one afternoon in his apartment. Although he lived in a beautiful area, I was surprised by the modesty of his home. Mr. Kaplan had the means to purchase most of what he desired but his furnishings were understated and simple. Each room was immaculate and well-kept but in no way did they reflect his level of wealth or success.

Our little tour was uneventful, until I spotted a few curious things. On the windowsill in his kitchen was a plastic cup – the type we typically use once and throw away. It was clean, yet it clearly had been used a number of times. A similar cup sat by his wife’s chair.

And then there was something even more curious – a suitcase, immediately next to the back door. It was apparent this suitcase was full and had been packed and sitting there for some time

We sat and Mr. Kaplan told me his story. It was a story about the fragility of life – a life that began on the shores of Europe and would culminate on the shores of this country.  It was about fear and salvation, disappointment and belief.

“So… Tell me about the cups and the suitcase.” I requested.

Mr. K explained:

“The cups are a reminder of all that need not be – all of the things we intensely pursue and then quickly discard.

The suitcase is a reminder of what we must anticipate.”
“For each cup that would be tossed in the garbage,” Mr. Kaplan continued, “I’m reminded of the money I spent that could have been saved, the ‘must haves’ I no longer remember owning, and my wish that I would have had enough self-control to live well below, rather than somewhat above, my means.”

“The suitcase is about how temporary it all is — the fact that I will leave this life one day, on a moment’s notice, with all that was mine being left behind…”  

So, what are your thoughts? He asked.

Rather than answer, I took the plastic cup from which I had been drinking and put it in my bag. I then announced that as soon as I got home, I’d be packing a suitcase to leave by my door.


Maimonides writes that the majority of the pain a man will experience is self-inflicted. The majority of his stress is self-generated and most of his failures are a result of his unwillingness to cherish what he has – as he strives to attain more.

When we say that the purpose of Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur is to reestablish a relationship with ourselves and our Maker, we’re not simply speaking about removing the distance that’s developed due to a loss of focus, an emergence of guilt, or something else that came between us. Nor are we talking about a symbolic reconnection.

We’re talking about reclaiming life!

That means: Removing misguided perspectives, misplaced priorities, unfounded directions, and inappropriate commitments. Reclaiming any relationship – certainly the ultimate relationship, is not simply a function of words and chanted prayers. It is built from a seriously thought about and clearly articulated plan – followed by real action.

Rosh Hashanah is about grabbing back life and its priorities! Yom Kippur is about laying out the details that make that commitment real!

The enemy of most of us is not some evil inclination sitting inside of us – attempting to destroy us. It is the complacency to keep things as they are – because that’s the way they’ve always been.


This Yom Kippur, see the image of Mr. Kaplan, the suitcase and the plastic cups – and reclaim life!

Think about the energy expended, the stress experienced, and the failure and pain endured as a result of chasing things you will forget having owned – or things that will be gone in an instant – when life ends.

Make a short list of 4-5 things you don’t need. Draw up a simple Time and Action Plan to get rid of those things. Find a place for a plastic cup and maybe a small suitcase you can keep as ongoing reminders.

Get rid of some things and live longer and happier.

And then you will truly have a meaningful fast!

Warmest regards,



4 Responses to “The Story of the Suitcase and the Plastic Cups”

  1. vicky cohen Says:

    absolutely beautiful.

  2. LaurenG Says:

    Really lovely. I love the connection to harambam. I truly believe that life is combination of our choices and our perspective.

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