Allen S. Maller

Today’s Seder: Passover foods evolving toward Prophet Miriam

Passover is the first and still most celebrated Holy Day in the Jewish calendar. It recalls events that occurred 33 centuries ago, when the Jewish people were freed from Egyptian oppression. But the Seder spends little time on history. Instead, it teaches each generation the ongoing personal values of freedom, responsibility, empathy, suffering, transformation and redemption. Pick one of the ritual foods listed below and prepare yourself to speak about its meaning in your life.

Karpas; one of the traditional ritual foods in the Seder refers to the vegetable salad, usually parsley or celery, that is dipped in a liquid (often salt water) and eaten. Some use raw onion, or boiled potato. The liquid may be any of the seven which make food capable of becoming ritually impure, buy salt-water or vinegar are usually used. The salt water symbolizes the salty tears that Jews shed during their slavery in Egypt. Vinegar is spoiled wine so it represents the sweet turned sour. Note that all four flavors can be tasted in a Seder meal; bitter herbs, salt water, sour vinegar and sweet haroset.

Matzah is unleavened bread eaten by Jews during the week-long Passover holiday, when eating chametz (bread and other food which is made with leavened grain) is forbidden. Most matzo is a traditional Ashkenazic type; hard like a cracker. Many Mizrahi Jews traditionally prepared matzo as a soft, pliable type of flat pita bread, and these “soft matzos” have recently regained some popularity. There are many explanations for the symbolism of matzah.

Historically: The Torah relates that the Israelites left Egypt hastily, not waiting for their bread dough to rise; the bread thus baked, was matzah. (Exodus 12:39).

Spiritual: While matzah symbolizes redemption and freedom, it is also lechem oni, “poor man’s bread.” Thus it’s a reminder to always help aliens, the poor, to be humble, and to not forget what a life of servitude is like.

Also, leaven symbolizes corruption and pride as leaven “puffs up”. Eating the “bread of affliction” is both a lesson in humility and an act that enhances our appreciation of freedom.

Charoset,/Haroset, a mixture of fruits and nuts soaked in wine, served primarily during the Passove Seder. Its color and texture are meant to recall the mortar with which the Israelites bonded bricks when enslaved in Ancient Egypt. Charoset comes from the Hebrew word for clay cheres Before eating the maror, generally horseradish or romaine lettuce, participants dip the maror into the charoset. This action symbolizes that slavery is always bitter (maror) but hard work is not

Charoset is a tasty concoction and is a favorite of children. During the Seder meal, it may be eaten liberally, often spread on matzah. There are many recipes for charoset. A typical recipe from the Eastern European (or Ashkenazi) tradition would include nuts, apples, cinnamon, and sweet wine. The mixture is not cooked. Recipes in the Sephardi tradition are usually cooked and may include raisins, figs, dates, chopped almonds, and sesame seeds.

A Silent Egg and/or a Orange. Why a silent egg? The roasted egg and the roasted bone are reminders of the daily and Passover offerings in the days of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. We still explain the bone, but why was the egg unmentioned? Perhaps to represent all those who were present but unmentioned in the traditional Hagadah.

The egg represents the daily sacrifices that gays, lesbians and women have made in the past as well as their silent offerings. The egg also represents the thousands of non-Jews who the Torah tells us, joined the Jewish people when Israel left Egypt, and whose many contributions are also unmentioned. Now the egg will be silent no more.

Why an orange? An orange carries within itself the seeds of its own rebirth. In our generation, the Jewish people is again giving birth to itself. For the first time, women share equally with men. For the first time, gay men and lesbians share openly in shaping the future of Judaism. For the first time in 17 centuries, 1000’s of non-Jews are entering the Jewish community and contributing new vitality to our ancient people.

Now all who in the past were not warmly welcomed into our community take a rightful place in shaping our people’s future. Tonight both a fresh egg and an orange are on our Seder plate.

A cup of water for Miriam the Prophet. The traditional Haggadah does not mention Moses or Miriam by name, but some 21st century Haggadahs do. I offer this material from my article posted on Christian Feminism Today web site that can be used at your Seder if you want to teach others more about the importance of Prophet Miriam.

The Torah asserts that Miriam was a prophet (Exodus 15:20). Prophet Micah listed three prophets as being sent to lead Israel’s exodus from Egypt: “For I brought you up out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, and I sent before you [Prophet] Moses, [Prophet] Aaron, and [Prophet] Miriam (Micah 6:4). And Numbers 12:2 quotes Miriam and Aaron, saying, “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?”

If so, when and what did God speak through Prophet Miriam? What was Miriam’s Torah (teaching)?

Some say Miriam wrote down the narrative oral Torah from Genesis 12 through 50 while Moses was in Midian. Midrash Exodus Rabbah 5:18 and Tanhumah Va’era 6 state that the Israelite slaves in Egypt “possessed scrolls which they read.” This probably refers to the oral narrative Torah that Miriam the prophet wrote down for them.

Prophet Miriam also might have written the first fifteen chapters of Exodus, from “these are the names” to the song she and all the Jewish woman sang when the Israelites safely crossed the Sea of Reeds. As the Torah states, “Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and with all the women following her, dancing with tambourines; Miriam sang this refrain: Sing to the Lord . . .” (Exodus 15:21).

Biblical scholar Wendy Zierler states: “Miriam’s role brackets the Exodus story at its beginning and end. The story begins with Moses’ sister standing by the threatening banks of a river, watching as her baby brother is drawn safely from the water. It ends with Miriam standing by the previously threatening banks of the Reed Sea, watching as the Jewish people are drawn safely out of the parted waters, and then singing and dancing in triumph.”

Some feminist readers view Miriam’s chorus in Exodus 15:21 as evidence identifying the song more closely with Miriam than with Moses. Historians and archaeologists point to evidence of ancient women’s leadership roles, particularly in composing and performing songs of triumph, and suggest the song may have been ascribed to Miriam before it was transferred to Moses.

In the final form of the text, we can see evidence that Miriam, not Moses, sings for the entire people. Whereas Moses opens his song with אָשִׁירָה, “I shall sing” (Exodus 15:1), Miriam says שִׁירוּ, “sing” (15:21), in the imperative plural, suggesting that she is leading the entire congregation in song.

I suggest using some of this material at the beginning of the Seder either before the candle lighting ceremony (because Prophet Miriam most likely started the tradition of the candle lighting ceremony); or after the hand washing ceremony, going from water, to Miriam’s well which was a wellspring that provided water and accompanied the Israelites throughout the 40 years they traveled in the wilderness. When Miriam died the wellspring disappeared. (Numbers 20:1-2). Then from Miriam’s wellspring to this material about Miriam’s Prophetic activities and the wonderful activities of Jewish women today.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 850 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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