Pesach 2024/5784

This Seder, like all others, at the mention of the Ten Plagues, we will dip our pinky fingers in the wine, ‘spilling’ the red liquid on a napkin, being careful not to lick our finger after doing so.  Perhaps you have learnt, as I had, that this custom was to ensure we did not rejoice in the suffering of the Egyptians during our escape from slavery towards liberation following God’s chastisement of the angels’ response at the Sea of Reeds – ‘The work of My hands, the Egyptians, are drowning at sea, and you wish to say songs?’ (b. Megillah 10b)

Yet, this is only one explanation for this custom and it is a relatively modern one.  In the Prague Haggadah, 1526, the commentary below a woodcut print of a man dipping his finger in the wine cup, explains that we dip our fingers to stave off further harm against ourselves.[1]  Other sources go further in spilling the wine to wish harm on our enemies.[2]  There is a dark underside to this custom which we have now, thankfully, reclaimed to champion our compassion and shared humanity.[3]

This newly imagined custom highlights one of the crucial messages of Pesach, in the words of the poet and writer Aurora Levins Morales, ‘here in the cruel shadow of empire: another world is possible’.  In every moment we have a choice – a choice to remain in slavery/restricted thinking or a choice of freedom/openness.  Freedom means to see the humanity of the other, the suffering and pain of the stranger even, and particularly, at times when we are fearful and in pain ourselves. May this Pesach be one when we can truly recognise our shared humanity.

Rabbi Robyn Ashworth-Steen

 

[1] Referencing Exodus 15:26.

[2] A range of sources are cited here – https://schechter.edu/why-do-we-spill-16-drops-of-wine-while-reciting-the-ten-plagues-during-the-seder-responsa-in-a-moment-volume-10-issue-no-6-april-2016/

[3] There is more – one rabbinic perspective describes the four cups of wine, rather than cups of salvation, as cups of doom against others. (Yerushalmi Pesachim 10:1).