By LINDA M. LINONIS
Miriam’s Cup holds a special place at the Passover Seder. It’s a relatively new tradition, started in the 20th century, in a faith that dates to biblical times.
Though it’s a contemporary custom, that doesn’t diminish its importance and relevance.
Miriam’s Cup will be on the table tonight at the family Seder of Rabbi Joseph and Susan Schonberger. Passover begins at sundown and concludes April 2.
Rabbi Schonberger of Temple El Emeth, 3970 Logan Way, said the tradition recognizes Miriam, the first person in the Bible referred to as a prophet. That reference is found in Exodus.
“Miriam was important in that she was Moses’ big sister, helped him survive and helped take care of him,” the rabbi said.
But even more than that, Rabbi Schonberger said, it was Miriam who found water for the Israelites when they wandered in the wilderness. Mayim hayyim, living waters, followed the Israelites while Miriam lived.
“God provided water through Miriam,” he said. When Miriam died, he said, the water dried up.
Four cups of wine traditionally are part of the Seder; Miriam’s cup is reserved for water in recognition of the well story.
“Miriam’s Cup helps us pause and reflect on how women are partners and how they shape our lives,” the rabbi said. “Moses wouldn’t have been who he was without his older sister. She was very important to Moses. He was emotionally devastated when she died.”
Mrs. Schonberger said Miriam’s cup is a parallel to the Cup of Elijah, which is used at the Seder. “Miriam’s Cup represents past redemption while Elijah’s, future redemption,” she said.
She said the tradition of Miriam’s Cup especially was appreciated at the all- women Seders in the community. “It fit in well with this all-women led ritual,” Mrs. Schonberger said.
She added that Miriam’s Cup acknowledges women’s roles and contributions. “I like the idea of taking an old tradition and building on it. But it has to fit in and make sense,” she said. Miriam’s Cup does that.
Temple El Emeth’s Guide to Pesach includes a blessing that she wrote to be recited before the fourth cup of wine at the Seder.
The cups of wine recognize the four references to redemption in Exodus.
She wrote of the “unnamed and forgotten women” who stood at the pyramids, rejected a golden idol at Mount Sinai, witnessed the destruction of the Temple, stood at the gates of Auschwitz and at the intersection of Ben Yehuda and Yaffa [a main road in Jerusalem] and at the base of the Twin Towers. The fourth glass of wine is lifted in their honor.
“The Mosaic Covenant sets up written and oral traditions for Judaism,” the rabbi said. This basis of Judaism is found in the Torah.
Passover celebrates liberation from slavery in Egypt, the rabbi said. “It’s an event celebrated personally and communally.” The first night focuses on family Seders while the temple will host a second-night Seder on Tuesday. “It’s a major family festival,” he said.
Seder, he said, means order. The Passover observance follows strict rules on “kashering” the kitchen, that is, removing all leaven from dishes, pots, pans, utensils, ovens and microwaves.
The table for Seder should be set before nightfall with a white cloth and ke’arah, Seder tray with symbolic foods, three matzot, wine cups and Cups of Elijah and Miriam.