Symbolism of the Miriam's Cup
Miriam's Cup - A New Tradition that Brings Women into the Heart of Judaism
by Risa Borsykowsky
Giving Miriam a special place at the Passover table is a new concept in Judaism. Like most religions, Judaism developed within a male-dominated society and there are few pages dedicated to women in the Bible. Honoring and celebrating Miriam at Passover is a great opportunity to introduce Miriam, and the role she played in the Jews' exodus from Egypt.
The introduction of the Miriam’s Cup in a Passover Seder originated in a Boston Rosh Chodesh group in the late 1980’s. Stephanie Loo Ritari created this new ritual, which is based on the Legend of Miriam’s Well. The women were inspired by the Mayim Chayyim - Living Waters - of Miriam’s well, and the group drank from a special kiddush cup called Kos Miriam - The Cup of Miriam.
Emily Rosenfeld, one of the talented artists at Jewish Gift Place, makes one of our very favorite Miriam’s Cups. She sums it up eloquently in a card that she encloses with each of her Miriam’s Cups:
Including a Miriam's Cup at the Passover table is a pioneering tradition that gives a women of the Bible notable esteem at one of the most important Jewish celebrations of the year. By discussing her role as a prophet and a heroine, while noting her admirable qualities of strength, determination, and optimism, it will enlighten all who partiicpate in a Passover Seder and empower women everywhere.
At the end of the article you will find the most beautiful pictures and paintings, as well as words to the song, "Miriam's Song," by Debbie Friedman with a link to her YouTube video.
Miriam (her name has many meanings including prophet, waters of strength, beloved, rebellious) is celebrated as a heroine and a prophet. (A prophet is someone who speaks by divine inspiration; someone who is an interpreter of the will of God.) She was the older sister of Aaron and Moses. She is believed to be 7 years older than Moses and 3 years older than Aaron.
A passage in Micah (one of the books of the Hebrew Bible) suggests why Miriam had significant regard among later prophets, and why God chose her, along with Moses and Aaron, to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. In Micah 6:4 it says,
When Miriam's mother was pregnant, Miriam prophesied that her parents, Amram and Jocheved, would give birth to the child who would be the Israelite leader. He would bring about the Hebrew's redemption from slavery in Egypt and lead them to the Promised Land after 10 generations.
When the Pharaoh, Ramses II, became disconcerted by the growing number of the Hebrews in Egypt, he ordered that all male children of Hebrew slaves be drowned in the Nile River. Jocheved had two midwives, Shiprah and Puah, who did not cooperate with Pharaoh's order. This is considered the first occurance of civil disobedience in the Bible and was the first seed of the Exodus.
Moses was born on 7 Adar 2368 (around 1400 BCE - 3,410 years ago) and Jocheved was able to hide her baby for 3 months. During this time, she instilled his Jewish heritage in him and compassion for his people. However, after 3 months, she couldn't hide him any longer. In a desperate attempt to save her baby's life against Pharaoh's decree, she wove a papyrus basket for him and and put baby Moses in it. Miriam, only 7 years old, placed Moses in the Nile river, and promised to watch over her brother. She followed the floating basket down the river and hid in the bulrushes to make sure he was alright, until he was was found by the Pharaoh's daughter.
With trepidation and boldness, Miriam approached the Pharaoh's daughter and offered to find a nursemaid for the baby. She told her that she knew of a Hebrew woman who had just lost a baby and her newfound child might allow her to feed him. The Egyptian princess asked that the Hebrew woman be brought to her, and so Moses continued to be nursed by his own mother. The Pharoah's daughter raised Moses as her own.
Even at such a very young age, it was clear why God chose Miriam, along with her brothers, to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Miriam's role as a leader of the Hebrew women was demonstrated with her boldness, courage, strength, and ingenuity.
The first mention of Miriam being a prophetess in the Bible was after Moses, Miriam, and Aaron, led the Hebrews across the Red Sea. Miriam was so certain of her prophesy that Moses would lead the Hebrews to freedom, that she brought her tambourine with her during the Exodus from Egypt so that she could lead the women in singing and dancing.
After the Israelites passed through the Red Sea, a song led by Miriam appears in Exodus 15:20-21:
Miriam was married to Hur, of the tribe of Judah. Unlike other cultures at that time, Jewish women enjoyed many freedoms including talking with men in public, appearing without a veil, and travelling alone. For this reason, Miriam was present when Moses, Aaron, and Hur discussed Israel's problems and was intregral in devising the solutions. As a prophetess and the first lady of Israel, her opinion was highly regarded.
Miriam, Moses, and Aaron, led the Hebrew people through the desert for 40 years. In Miriam's honor and because of her righteousness, God created a miraculous well of clear spring water that followed her and nurtured the Israelites throughout their journey in the Sinai desert. Miriam did not live to see the Promised Land. She died before Aaron, shortly before the end of the Israelites' journey and was buried in the wilderness. The well remained with the Jews until Miriam's death.
The “Cup of Miriam” is filled with water and is placed beside the customary “Cup of Elijah,” which is filled with wine during the Passover Seder. It is symbolic for several reasons: Miriam saved her brother's life in the water of the Nile River, she led a victory song and dance after walking through the waters of the Red Sea, and she was followed by a continuous well of spring water that sustained the Israelites in the desert.
A "Miriam's Cup" brings honor to a heroic woman of the Bible. It was her faith, confidence, and wisdom that gave comfort to the Hebrews and helped them overcome the hardships of the desert during their Exodus from Egypt. She stood side by side with Moses and Aaron as they passed through the Red Sea, and she is heralded for her strength. The "Miriam's Cup" is symbolic because it is the first time a women is so honored at one of the most important Jewish celebrations of the year. It serves as a reminder that there were many unheralded women of the Bible whose contributions helped define and nourish Jewish culture.
Since the Miriam's cup is a new tradition, there is no right or wrong way for incorporating it into the Passover Seder. I, personally, am going to start off my Passover Seder by explaining the symbolism of the six items on the Passover plate, the matzah, the Elijah's cup, and the Miriam's cup (which will be empty). Everyone at the table will have a glass of water and a glass of wine. I will explain that the water in Miriam's Cup symbolizes the miraculous well that followed Miriam and the Israelites for 40 years in the desert. The waters of Miriam's well were said to be healing and sustaining. Miriam's Cup is a symbol of all that sustains us through our own journeys. Miriam's Cup emphasizes the importance of Miriam and the other women of the Exodus.
Miriam's Cup will be passed around and everyone will add some of their own water to this cup. We will say the following prayer:
At each occurance of Miriam in the hagaddah, I will emphasize her importance and will give honor to her at the following parts of the Passover story:
I found a very beautiful song by Debbie Friedman called, "Miriam's Song." The words and a link to the Youtube video are below. I will distribute tambourines to the kids at the table and will play this song after the Israelites have crossed the Red Sea.
I will end the Seder with everyone taking a sip from Miriam's Cup, symbolizing the freedom of the Jews after passing through the Red Sea, the sustaining properties of water, the strength of Miriam, and her optimistic prophesy of hope and redemption.
Below are three different rituals from various websites with suggestions on how you can honor Miriam at your Passover Seder.
RITUALS SUGGESTED BY WWW.CARYN.COM
Below are suggestions from www.caryn.com on using Miriam's Cup in the Passover Seder:
RITUALS SUGGESTED BY RABBI HAMMER OF TEL SHEMESH
The rituals below are written by Rabbi Hammer, the founder of Tel Shemesh and the author of Sisters at Sinai: New Tales of Biblical Women.
RITUALS SUGGESTED BY MIRIAMSCUP.COM
Below are suggestions for incorporating Miriam's Cup in your Passover Seder from www.miriamscup.com.
If you're looking for a beautifully illustrated story of Miriam's Cup, this is a book that I read a few years ago at my sister-in-law's house.
I think you will really enjoy this song by Debbie Friedman. I’m trying to figure out how to use this song in my Passover Seder. I don’t think I’ll be able to remember the tune in the next 2 weeks, so I’m thinking of recording it and playing it after the Israelites pass through the Red Sea, which is a great time to play this very joyous song. I think by the end of the song, my lively family will be singing along. Listen to it here.
All of the pictures below are from the beautiful clip art collection of Bible Picture Gallery.
PICTURES WITH MIRIAM
Miram ventured to come closer
Moses exposed on the Nile (an outline by Dickenson)
Pharaoh's daughter finds baby Moses
The finding of Moses (an engraving based on a picture)
The finding of Moses by Sebatien Bourdon
The finding of Moses
The finding of the infant Moses
Miriam the prophetess
PICTURES OF MOSES
Moses and the burning bush (a portrait by Guy Ro)
Moses and the burning bush
Moses' rod turned into a serpent
Fear grew in Moses' heart
MOSES AND AARON APPEAR BEFORE PHARAOH
Moses appearing before Pharaoh by James Tissots
Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh
Moses' rod changed into a serpent
The plague of hail and the plague of frogs
The plague of locusts
Death of the firstborn of Egypt
The death of the firstborn by Bernardino Luini
EXODUS FROM EGYPT AND CROSSING THE RED SEA
The departure of the Israelites
Pharaoh and his army in pursuit of the Israelites
A painting by German artist Lucas Cranach
Crossing the Red Sea
The passage through the Red Sea
Pharaoh and his army drown in the Red Sea
Read all of the articles in our Jewish Passover Traditions series: