Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 8 April 2017 / 12 Nisan 5777

Prophets of Passover

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman - www.rabbiullman.com
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

From: Felice

Dear Rabbi,

Moses, Aaron and Miriam play such a central role in the Exodus. Are they featured in any way in the Haggada?

Dear Felice,

You are correct that all three siblings — Moses, Aaron and Miriam — brought about the Redemption from Egypt as in the verse, “For I brought you up out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam” (Micah 6:4).

In addition, the Talmud teaches (Ta’anit 9a) that in the merit of these three righteous prophets, G-d gave three wondrous gifts to the Jewish People, which accompanied them throughout their wanderings in the Wilderness. The manna, which was miraculously delivered to and preserved within dew on the ground, was in the merit of Moses. The Clouds of Glory, which protected overhead and hovered in the sky, were in the merit of Aaron. And a well, which miraculously provided sustaining water for their various encampments, was in the merit of Miriam.

Accordingly, these three prophets who led the liberation of the Jews from servitude to freedom, and in whose merit the Jews were miraculously sustained, correspond to the central items on the Seder Plate, and to the main foods eaten during the Passover meal. The roasted lamb, which is a land animal, corresponds to Moses and the manna which was collected from the ground. The boiled egg of a bird, which inhabits the air, corresponds to Aaron and the Clouds of Glory. In addition, the Talmud says (Pesachim 144b) that one of the cooked items on the Seder Plate is fish. Since fish live in water, this would correspond to Miriam and the Well.

Even though it is not the custom to use fish as one of the cooked items on the Seder Plate, fish is certainly an important part of the festive Passover meal, and, at least in this context, would correspond to Miriam. That being said, it is noteworthy that Rav Sherira Gaon (c. 900-940) in his Laws of the Seder Night commends adding a piece of fish to the Seder Plate in honor of Miriam because of her association with water (cited by Rabbi Elazar of Worms, c. 1176-1238, in Ma’aseh Rokeach ch. 19).

Interestingly, Rav Sherira Gaon adds that the lamb, egg and fish also allude to the three mythical creatures in Jewish tradition: the land beast Behemot, the bird Ziz, and the sea-creature Leviatan, respectively. In fact, Rabbi Chaim Palaggi (1788-1869) in “Mo’ed l’Khol Chai” (Izmir, 1861, Chapter 4, sec. 23, p. 24b) specifically mentions placing fish on the Seder table and reciting, “May it be Your will that You merit us to eat from the banquet of Leviatan.”

According to the Midrash, the Leviatan and Behemot (Bava Batra 74b) as well as the Ziz (Yalkut Shimoni 1:94; see also Maharal, Gur Aryeh 21:1) are to be served at the Seudat Techiyat HaMetim (Pesachim 119b and Eitz Yosef), the feast for the righteous following the Resurrection of the Dead, to which the Passover Seder alludes, insofar as it commemorates the past Redemption together with the Cup of Elijah’s heralding the future, Final Redemption.

Sources:

  • References for the mythical creatures are: Behemot (Ps. 50:10; Bava Batra 74b); Ziz (Ps. 50:11, 80:13-14; Bava Batra 73b); Leviatan (Gen. 1:21, see Rashi; Is. 27:1; Bava Batra 74b).
  • Dr. Yael Levine, “Where is Miriam on the Seder plate?”, “Placing a Cooked Food on the Seder Table in Commemoration of Miriam”, “All the Women Followed Her: A Collection of Writings on Miriam the Prophet & The Women of Exodus” pp. 235-251.

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