By Rabbi Emily Losben-Ostrov
I try hard to be an optimist. Sometimes, I guess I fall short of that and hopefully, I’m just a realist and not a pessimist. I want to see life as the glass “half full,” and not “half empty.” Of course, though, there are days when I’m not sure whether it’s half full or half empty- it just is.
As we celebrate Passover, we will need to fill many glasses, not only our own but two other communal glasses. At almost any seder there is set aside a traditional cup for Elijah. This cup symbolizes our hope that Elijah the prophet will come to our seder and herald in the messianic age- a time when there will be peace on all the earth. I recently learned of a custom whereby everyone at the seder pours a little of their wine into Elijah’s cup, thus symbolizing that we must all do our part to bring about peace in the world.
Another cup that has been added to many seders within the last 25 years is “Miriam’s Cup.” This cup, to be filled with water, represents the role of both women and water in our lives. So much of the Passover story deals with men, and by adding a cup that represents Miriam the prophetess, we are making sure to add the heroic efforts of women into our story as well. The idea of filling this special cup with water is representative of a story from the Talmud which says that in honor of Miriam, God gave the Israelites a well for their journey in the desert. That well, and water in general, represents how critical water is to our existence. Personally, I believe that by having a cup of water on our seder table, we can be reminded that sometimes even the most mundane of things- like water- are actually critical to our survival and we must not take it for granted.
Having a “Kos Miriam” (Miriam’s Cup) can also serve to remind us that around the world 750 million people lack access to clean water and sadly, every minute a child dies of a water-related disease. Passover is our opportunity to remember the past, but hopefully it can also serve as a wake up call to look to the future and make a difference, such as by going to www.water.org and learning more about the international water crisis. Thus by doing so, as we fill Miriam’s cup we can actually also fill the cups of so many in need.
Of course the seder isn’t complete without each person having four cups of wine (or grape juice). When we fill our second cup of wine, we will pause to take out 10 drops of liquid – one for each of the 10 plagues delivered to the ancient Egyptians. Taking out these ten drops- even the smallest of drops, reminds us that we can not drink a full cup of wine (our symbol of joy) when we know others have suffered, even our enemies. Still today as we go to our Pesach celebrations we must be reminded that although we are free, others are still enslaved. Today as we celebrate our faith, around the world there are others who must practice their religions in secret. Today as we are blessed to eat with friends and family, others go hungry.
This Passover we are blessed to have so much to celebrate. Even as many of us face some sort of trials and tribulations, let us instead try to see our cup as almost full. Let us use this time of Passover to give thanks to God and let us lift up our cup and truly say “L’chaim- To Life!”
Rabbi Emily Losben-Ostrov is the rabbi of Sinai Reform Temple in Bay Shore, NY.