Miriam’s Cup

A Ritual for Women/A Ritual for All

The Passover haggadah is one of the most widely dispersed and read of all Jewish texts. The story leading up to the exodus from Egypt contains one of the most female-rich narratives in the entire Bible yet as told in the haggadah, it is totally devoid of female personalities. Neither Jocheved, nor Miriam, Shifra, Puah or Pharaoh’s daughter appears.

To provide women with a place in the Passover ritual, many families place a kos Miryam, Miriam’s cup, on the seder table beside the cup of Elijah. The very portable cup hearkens back to the midrashic tale of Miriam’s well, a miraculous source of water for the Israelites as they wandered in the desert. As a symbol of women’s presence at the exodus, the kos Miryam reflects the contemporary desire for inclusion of all Jews at the seder table.

As an evolving ritual,Miriam’s cup is used in various ways. Some fill it at the beginning of the seder, others after the Ten Plagues and before Dayyenu. Others use it in conjunction with Elijah’s cup at the end of the seder. Some pass it around for everyone to take a drink, others pour water from the cup into individual glasses. Whatever your custom, Miriam’s cup enhances the celebration of a historic event in our people’s history.

The legend of Miriam’s well is told in a number of midrashic stories. The rabbis juxtaposed the story of Miriam’s death in Numbers 20:1 with the account of the waters of Meribah that follows immediately after. Because the stories are consecutive, the rabbis surmise that Miriam’s death resulted in the dearth of water, and they credit her with the well that provided the Israelites with their drinking water.

An objection was raised: R. Jose the son of R. Judah says: Three good leaders had arisen for Israel, namely: Moses, Aaron and Miriam and for their sake three good things were conferred upon Israel, namely the well, the pillar of cloud and the manna. The well, for the merit of Miriam; the pillar of cloud for the merit of Aaron; the manna for the merit of Moses. When Miriam died the well disappeared, as it is said: And Miriam died there (Numbers 22:1) and immediately follows the verse: And there was no water for the congregation.

BT Ta’anit 9a

From: The women’s League for Conservative Judaism Hiddur Mitzvah Project, A Fresh Approach to Enhancing Mitzvot