In our ceremony for Passover, we focused on the redemptive properties of the living waters rather than on Miriam herself.
After the Israelites left Egypt, they complained that there was no water in the desert. Because of the righteousness of the prophet Miriam, God gave a miraculous well filled with pure, healing waters. This well, known as Miriam's Well, traveled with the people during their forty years of wandering in the desert. Midrash says that when Miriam died, the well dried up.
In the late 1980s, Joyce Miriam Friedman led our Rosh Hodesh group in a meditation to Miriam's Well. Joyce invited us to take a goblet, fill it with the healing waters of Miriam's Well and drink. Another member of our group, Stephanie Loo, was so taken with the image of the Well and the water, that she began using a crystal goblet filled with spring water to remind her of the mayyim hayyim (living waters) of Miriam's Well. She called this goblet “Kos Miryam” (the Cup of Miriam), and used the cup to welcome Shabbat. Stephanie gave Kos Miryam its name, and she wrote the original refrain for the Kos Miryam ceremony.
The following year, Stephanie, Janet Berkenfield, and I wrote a ceremony using Kos Miryam for the Passover seder. We used Kos Miryam at the beginning of our seder to set the tone for the evening. Kos Eliyahu, which is at the end of the seder, reminds us of the hope for our future redemption, while Kos Miryam recalls our past redemption leaving slavery. In the ceremony for Passover, we focused on the redemptive properties of the water rather than on Miriam herself.
Using Kos Miryam on the Passover seder table has caught on in the past few years and many beautiful cups have been created for this purpose. Kos Miryam has been used especially at women's seders, as a way to honor the women in the Torah. While I am very happy that Kos Miryam is being used in any capacity, honoring the women was not the original intent for Kos Miryam. The haggadah doesn't mention either Miriam or her brothers Moshe and Aharon in telling the story of the Exodus from Egypt. The Torah tells us that God brought us out of Egypt through miracles and wonders, and only God is mentioned in the haggadah as the One who brought us to freedom. This is to emphasize that we were taken out of slavery by God's hand, not by human effort. The original intention for using Kos Miryam was to represent the mayyim hayyim of Miriam’s Well. In this way, we remember the miracles God brought the Israelites during the Exodus.
Kos Miryam was never meant to be a symbol for women only, just as Kos Eliyahu is not meant only for men. Hopefully one day the full potential and spirituality of the living waters will be recognized, and Kos Miryam will not be seen only as "a women's custom," but will be used throughout the Jewish community.
Rabbinic Pastor Matia Rania Angelou, Eshet Hazon (“Woman of Vision”), is a published poet, ritual artist, healer, and teacher of meditative chant. She is a SpiritSong teacher who uses her music for healing and spiritual refinement. Matia is an interfaith chaplain, a spiritual director, and a mikveh guide at Mayyim Hayyim Community Mikveh.