Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Miriam's Cup

It's too late for this to be useful for anyone's seder this year, but...

One of the most interesting innovations in seder observance among progressive Jewish types over the past, say, 40 years has been Miriam's Cup. Placed on the table alongside Elijah's Cup (which represents the promise of future, messianic redemption) and filled with water (to remind us of Miriam's midrashic role in sustaining the Israelites in the desert), it is, like most ritual innovations, a blank slate on which to draw signficance: the role of women, inclusiveness, creativity, etc.

That's part 1. Part 2 is that progressive Jewish types also get a slew of hagaddah supplements in the weeks leading up to seder, asking us to include various issues in our discussions at the table: human rights, Darfur, Israel-Palestine peace, immigration reform, the Michael Lerner kitchen sink, etc. etc. (Here's a page of them from the Religious Action Center.)

Part 3 is that I'm reading Annie Leonard's book The Story of Stuff, which is fantastic and which I'll review in a further post, but I started thinking that I'd like to add a Stuff component to the seder. But as I was preparing, the Miriam's Cup (which we've had on the table for years but which we've never done a whole lot with, ritually speaking) seemed like it needed something.

So this is what we did: we focused the Miriam's Cup section, way up at the beginning of the seder, on the bottled water issue. I don't know how much you know about this, but bottled water is really Bad. First, it's a manufactured need, in that most tap water in this country is perfectly fine, and if it isn't that's a motivation for political action to take care of it, not to abandon the system. Second, most bottled water is only filtered tap water anyway. Third, it is resource intensive in that it takes extra water and petroleum products to make the bottles, not to mention the transportation to get it where it's going. And fourth, it's more expensive than gasoline, not to mention the disposal of the bottles, which are mostly (80%) landfilled.

Access to clean sources of water is becoming a worldwide human rights issue, if it isn't already, and some say that water will be the oil of the 21st century, with wars being fought over it, and populations moving due to its absence.

The Rambam has a quote which I use quite often, to the effect that God gave us - for free and in abundance - what we need to live: air, water, etc. But if we go after things that we don't need, it makes the things we do need more expensive and less accessible. Here, I'll prove it:

[W]hen one endeavors to seek what is unnecessary, it becomes difficult to find even what is necessary. ...the more a thing is necessary for a living being, the more often it may be found and the cheaper it is. On the other hand, the less necessary it is, the less often it is found and it is very expensive. ... [The Guide III:12]
Bottled water, being unnecessary, is more expensive, and its pursuit makes tap water, which is necessary, more difficult to obtain.

More information and action items on this issue can be found at the Corporate Accountability International website, which includes a link to another great Annie Leonard video piece called the "Story of Bottled Water."

The takeaway message, in case you couldn't get it, is "Don't buy bottled water!"

Miriam is associated with the availability of fresh, sustaining water to a migrating population in a desert environment. It is exactly that kind of population which has the most difficulty getting access to clean drinking water, in large part due to the actions that we in the west take. May Miriam's Cup be a reminder to us that, as is so often the case, the simplest answer is best - for us, for those who travel this planet together with us, and for the planet itself.

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