New Passover Rituals
Use these earthy rituals to spice up your seder this year.
Cups of Miriam and Elijah: A New Ritual
Miriam and Elijah, both prophets of the Israelite tribes, are associated with water. Miriam is connected to water from under the earth. As many legends tell, a well of water followed Miriam through the wilderness, quenching the thirst of the Israelites and providing them with healing herbs, soft grasses, and even rivers to travel on when journeying from tent to tent. This water is from the primordial depths. Elijah, however, is associated with rain. In the days of the Israelite kings, Elijah held back the rain because of the corruption in the royal court, and then released the rain so that it poured down on the land. Elijah’s power to give water is connected to the sky. Both prophets have the shamanic power to invite the waters of the world to arise. They represent male and female aspects of blessing and creation.
It is an old custom to place a cup of wine on the seder table for Elijah, who will herald the coming redemption (the door is also opened for Elijah near the end of the seder). It is a new custom to place a cup of spring water on the table for Miriam to honor her life-giving and healing waters. When beginning your seder, you can fill the two cups while reciting the following prayers:
Elijah, rain down from heaven
water for us, water to drink,
water to fall on the planted crops
and the quick desert flowers,
water to soak the jungles of the earth
and fill the cisterns of shepherds,
water to thunder down on us in autumn and spring,
water to make puddles and ponds and rivers,
waters of snow and ice and glacial flows,
water to cloud the horizon so that the world is a mystery.
Miriam, draw up from the earth
water for us, water to drink,
water to seep into the roots of grain and corn
and fill the deepest aquifers,
water to caress the roots of trees,
water for us to swim in and get delight,
water to fill the sea and sustain its creatures,
water to run through caves where the sun is silent,
water to rise up from wells, fountains and geysers
in pillars of glowing light.
May this spring season bring us the water of life.
Either at this moment, or just before opening the door for Elijah, you can turn to the cups again and ask people to say what water they need this year (water of healing, water of peace, water of serenity, water of washing away tears, etc.).
At the end of the seder, pour the water and wine together in a bowl while singing a water song (the dance “ushavtem mayim besasson mimaynei hayeshuah” or the chant “born of water, cleansing, powerful, healing, changing, we are.” Pour this mixture outside to fertilize the earth.
Text for Breaking the Middle Matzah
(Early in the seder, the middle matzah of the three ritual matzot is broken. One half is hidden away as the afikoman, the final taste of the Passover meal.)
May we, like our ancestors who fled Egypt, break with the slavery of our past and, through the crack in this matzah, escape to a greater, wider, more complete freedom. Kein yehi ratzon. So may it be. Amen.
Purification Rites for Passover
Make your symbolic cleaning ritual on the 14th of Nisan more exciting by turning it into a treasure hunt. For example, take each piece of chametz you leave out to be “found” by searchers and label it with something you want to leave behind or get rid of. Or label each one with a fact about the year that has passed and ask the searchers to say how this fact is related to Passover. This will aid in making time and space feel more special.
Do a special handwashing during the seder by asking each person to wash the hands of the person next to them,
When dipping the parsley or egg in salt water, bear in mind that salt water is used for purification purposes all over the world. You can use the parsley to sprinkle water at everyone to purify them for spring. Or, say good wishes over the salt-dipped egg before eating.
Second Seder: Counting the Omer
On the second night of Passover, place a symbolic sheaf of grass, grain, or even pipe cleaners and tissue paper, to symbolize the harvested sheaf of grain that began the sacred period of the Omer (the forty-nine days between Passover and Shavuot). During the seder, someone can tell the story of this sheaf of grain, how it was planted, grew, and was harvested. So too, the Israelites grew and were harvested from Egypt by the Holy One, and their new seed was planted in the wilderness to grow into a new nation.
Rabbi Jill Hammer is the director and co-founder of Tel Shemesh and the author of Sisters at Sinai: New Tales of Biblical Women, and of The Jewish Book of Days: A Companion for All Seasons.
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