Rabbi Stiefel's Monthly Article

Current April 2024

Rabbi Sharon Stiefel


Spilling Drops of Wine


I remember that one afternoon when I was in the fifth grade of religious school, my classmates and I were excited because we had just heard that presidential candidate George Wallace had been shot. My eleven-year-old self didn’t know much about Wallace, but I knew that we did not want him in office. 

Our teacher, Mrs. Caler, zichrona livracha, was quick to point out that we should not rejoice at the downfall of our enemies. We quickly calmed down as we realized that Wallace was a human being and did not deserve to be injured or murdered. Mrs. Caler’s admonition made a strong impression.

As we move closer to Pesach, I think about our tradition when reciting the Ten Plagues at the Seder. We spill out ten drops from our second cup of wine or grape juice. The drops symbolize the diminution of our joy at our freedom because it was gained at the expense of the Egyptians who drowned. 

There are other ways in which we intentionally decrease our rejoicing on Pesach. During holidays it is customary to sing Hallel, psalms of praise. However, on the last six days of Pesach we sing hatzi (half) Hallel. 

There is a verse from the Book of Proverbs (24:17) that inspires this Passover custom:  “Do not rejoice at the fall of your enemy. “

A midrash found in the Talmud (Megillah 10b) records that on the night the Egyptians drowned in the Red Sea (the seventh night of Passover), God prevented the angels from singing songs of praise.

‘The Angels were singing joyfully along with the Israelites as they crossed the Red Sea and God admonishes them, saying “My creations are dying and you are singing songs of joy?”’

            This year, our first Passover observance since October 7th, sparks even more awareness of the suffering of all peoples. We do not rejoice over the deaths of the innocent, nor even the fall of our enemies. God noticed that our freedom was won at the expense of Egypt’s great loss. 

            We are reminded that each human being has value and the loss of any life should always be a matter of concern. We pray for the end of the Israel-Gaza war and that the inherent worth of the lives of Israelis and Palestinians are recognized and valued.

I wish you and yours a meaningful Pesach!