- Posted by Elaine Zecher
- On March 30, 2018
- 0 Comments
Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection to help us prepare for Shabbat, and this week, Pesach.
This is a year to be thirsty, for truth, for respect of others, for a desire to live with integrity. It is with this thought in mind that I think about the idea of a cup of Miriam* when we gather around our Seder tables and use symbols to tell the story of our Exodus. I’m especially interested in the ritual surrounding it.
The rationale of placing a goblet of water on the table as Miriam’s cup stems from the desire to bring to light the role of women in the Exodus story: “If it wasn’t for the righteousness of women of that generation we would not have been redeemed from Egypt.” (Sotah 9b) The cup of water represents the living waters of Miriam’s well that, according to the midrash, accompanied the Israelites on their desert journey.
Some share the water from the cup with each guest around the table. Others choose to pour water from their own cup into Miriam’s cup. A myriad of ideas have emerged along with accompanying possibilities.
When I see the cup of Miriam sitting next to the cup of Elijah, I wonder if the cup is what we need. The ritual item is just as important as the ritual itself. And by mimicking the role that the Cup of Elijah plays, we minimize the value of invoking Miriam, the living waters, and the place of women in the story.
The midrash chooses to focus on the water because it is the primal life saving force in the parched wilderness. Without the water, the people would dry up and vanish. In fact, when Miriam dies, the people are left without water. They thirst for nourishment. The focal point of the ritual should, then, be the water, not its container. And yet, the water still needs to be held in something. We are not going to dig a well at our table.
So here is an emendation to that ritual:
Because the ritual is shaped to honor Miriam and her water, the water glasses should remain empty on the Seder table. The guests are thirsty, literally and figuratively, but they will have to wait. They may even complain about the absence of water. Water is a precious commodity even in the presence of abundance. “When can we have some water?” may be the first question posed at the Seder table. Tell the guests that their thirst is part of the ritual. Perhaps, ask what they thirst for. At some point in the Seder, pause and ask if anyone is thirsty. Now bring out some pitchers of ice-cold water. Fill each glass. Drink. Appreciate the water, the quenching waters, just as our ancestors did in the desert. As the participants feel revived by these waters, offer these words: “These are the waters of Miriam, living waters, mayyim hayyim, as a remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt.” With water glasses filled and Miriam’s place appropriately acknowledged, and their thirst quenched for now, continue the Seder.
Our tradition opens up ritual moments and invites us to consider what we might take for granted. They help us lift up and examine the way we experience our hope for a better world as they summon us to encounter words, ideas, and objects with new perspectives. This is a year to be thirsty. Miriam and her well, along with its waters, allow us to reflect on its meaning and impact so that we rise from our Seder with deeper insight to consider how we might be agents, like Miriam, to bring nourishment to parched souls of those around us.
Shabbat Shalom and Hag Sameah!
4:45 p.m. is the start time for our shortened Qabbalat Shabbat Services tonight. Live web stream HERE.
The Matzah Brei Cook-Off goes from 9:00-10:00 a.m. Some delicious food awaits you. Then, at 10:00 a.m., the younger children will enjoy a delightful program concert with the magnificent Ellen Allard. Everyone else gets to stay near the food as we pray, sing, and do some studying together.
As always, connect with me HERE with your reflections and comments.
Rabbi Elaine Zecher
*This is an adaptation from an article I wrote for Sh’ma, March 2005