In less than a week’s time we will be seated around the Seder table at our Second Annual Community Crafted Passover Seder and dinner, open to the community, on Sunday evening April 20, 7:30 p.m. here at St. Andrew Mehringer Hall.
We will retell the events that led up to the Biblical account of the miraculous redemption of B’not and B’nai Yisrael from Pharaoh, using traditional texts. And we will sing the ritual with traditional and modern melody. Recent theological debate investigates the Biblical account we have studied. Inquiry in search of truth should not diminish our faith or deter us from rejoicing in the core of meaning from the Exodus liturgy. Such inquiry today need include the overlooked but most important role that women have played in the Exodus, without which it may not have happened at all, as recounted.
Natalie Gordon‘s sermon entitled “The Orange and Miriam’s Cup at the Seder” puts a fine point on this perspective of discovery. She writes in pertinent part as edited:
“Soon we will read the story of the parting of the Red Sea and how Hashem delivered us from Pharaoh's army and how the people rejoiced when they saw the great miracle. Miriam the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her in dance with timbrels. And Miriam chanted for them: '…sing to the Lord, for God has triumphed gloriously; Horse and rider has been hurled into the sea.
’One of the difficulties of the traditional Seder is the complete lack of mention of the contributions of women to this event. If you read the story of Pesach in Exodus, it is obvious that women played central and important roles. Without the efforts of women, no redemption would have taken place.
‘We read about the midwives, Shifrah and Pu'ah who, even though they were Egyptians, refused to kill the newborn Hebrew babies. Yocheved bore Moshe and hid him in the basket. And there was Bat Pharaoh (Pharaoh's daughter) who adopted Moshe and raised him as her son, after arranging to have him nursed by his own mother. How do you reconcile the presence of all these strong women with the lack of women in the traditional Seder if you are an egalitarian Jew? (or Progressive, my comment)
‘Whenever the reference comes to our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, we can add in Sara, Rivkah, Rachel, and Leah. That's easy. New Haggadot are already available that do just that.
‘‘There are two other "traditions" you can add that will do an even better job of putting women back into the Seder. The first is placing an orange on the Seder plate. ‘From where did this orange originate? Susannah Heschel was reportedly discussing egalitarianism at a dinner in Florida. A remark was made that women would become rabbis and cantors when an orange found its way onto the Seder plate! And it was so…
‘‘The custom of the orange on the Seder plate is now so widespread and so popular among liberal Jews that one can order Seder plates with a place for an orange from dozens of gift shops. So, to put women back into the Seder, we can add an orange to our Seder plate.
‘Some might protest adding this orange is not traditional.
‘If you check your Haggadah you will find Rabbi Gamliel referring to the minimum requirements for the Seder. The original Seder plates had lamb, matza and maror. Yet my own "traditional" Seder plate also has a spot for lettuce, parsley and charoset. These other items were added to the traditional Seder plate at various points in our history as we required them. So there are plenty of precedents within our traditions for adding an orange to the Seder plate, if we so desire.
‘We know that Miriam was intimately involved in the entire Passover story. According to one of our Midrashim, Miriam was called a prophetess because she foresaw Moshe's birth. After Pharaoh's decree to throw the male babies into the river, the Hebrew men and women divorced and lived apart rather than risk bringing a male child into the world…It was at Miriam’s urging that her parents remarried and Moshe was conceived. After Moshe's birth, right up to her song of praise in the desert after the parting of the Sea of Reeds, Miriam is there.
‘She is the feminine counterpoint to Moshe.
‘Another way to incorporate the spirit of women into your Seder is to place an additional cup next to the wine cup of Elijah—but this one is filled with water!‘According to another of our ancient Midrashim, a miraculous well followed the Jews as they wandered in the desert. It remained with them, providing water, for as long as Miriam was alive. In some senses a cup of water to symbolize Miriam is closer to the consummate ideal of Judaism than the cup of Elijah to symbolize our hope
for the messiah. Why? ‘Elijah was a hermit, who lived alone and who criticized the Jewish people. We have his cup on the table as a symbol of our hope of redemption through Mashiach at some point in the future. I, too, hope for a messianic redemption, but until Mashiach comes, we have to live in the world we are in now. I am sometimes disturbed when I have contact with Jews who have cut themselves off from the world and seem to live only for
‘Miriam's cup is about the present, the here and now. Miriam did not live in a cave. She lived among her people. Like the Jew out and about in our society, interacting with life, Miriam was there with the Jews in
the desert. ‘Today, we don't hide in a cave and criticize while waiting for redemption to come from somewhere outside ourselves. Yes, Miriam, was flawed and imperfect as shown by the story of her being stricken with leprosy for indulging in lashon hara. Yet, there is no doubt that Miriam was loved by her people, and loved by Hashem. So
Miriam's cup becomes not just a symbol of women in Judaism but also for the progressive movements within Judaism.”
Ms. Gordon concluded her remarks with a beautiful prayer that we might choose to offer as a way of joining these “new” traditions to our tested sacred rites. It is added just prior to the second cup of wine:
"You abound in blessing, G-d, creator of the universe, who sustained our
ancestors with living water in the dessert. May we, like the children of
Israel leaving Egypt, be guarded and nurtured and kept alive in the
wilderness. May you give us the wisdom to understand that the journey
itself holds the promise of redemption."
May we continue to transmit both the traditional account of the Exodus from Egypt and at the same time be open to new ritual practices destined in their own right to become traditions and customs for some. For me, intellectual inquiry and challenge based upon study and discovery about so many of our holidays and rites keeps the seasonal message of Pesach, it celebration of renewal and new birth, fresh and vibrant for our day in our time.
If we can sit about our Seder table and feel free from the narrowest bonds of Mizrayim, the narrow places to new thought and discovery, then the Exodus becomes very real in our own time.
Chag Kasher V’Sameach!
Hazzan David Silverstein