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The Women's Scrolls
Dedicated to Esther Schonfeld whose help with Hebrew translation made this dramatic
By Grippy and Cormo
"Moses!" I almost shouted it, to penetrate the thick goathair tent walls, wondering if I would be
alive when the glorious sunset finished.
I didn't fear death. When you've lived almost as many decades as you have fingers, you've long known that your next breath may be your last. But I minded dying with my duty not just unfinished, but in a royal, tangled mess bigger than a Pharaoh's pyramid.
It isn't easy being the big sister of a demi-god, especially when you know he's not a god, just your baby brother. Moses wants everybody to think he's barely lower than God.
But I've talked with God. I know God. I love God. Moses is no god. But few agree with me any more ... except our brother Aaron. He also knew Moses when...
Mutterings from within Moses's tent. The tent he enjoyed all to himself, separate from the tent of his long time wife, Zipporah, and another tent for his cute new thinks-with-her-tush Cushite wife.
"Mo-" The tent flap snapped open, and Moses' Cushite wife, source of our current troubles, flounced out. She gave me a look of guilty triumph and kept going, her little fanny wiggling triple time. Humph!
Aaron and I shrugged at each other. Convincing Moses to give up some of his power wasn't going to be easy.
I squared my shoulders and we marched in. The glare on Moses's face stopped the words in Aaron's mouth. But not mine. "Moses, we have big trouble here. Bad enough that you married Zipporah, and wasted your time on magic lessons in Midian when Israel needed you to free us from slavery, and rescue us from Egypt. But we made it anyway, thanks to my help and Aaron's."
The setting sun reflected in the tent, bathing Moses like blood. Moses growled. He didn't like being reminded that he'd ever needed help.
"Marrying Zipporah wasn't all bad. You've never been good with details and delegating authority. But her father Jethro is, and by marrying his daughter you got his help in setting up the honest judge system. So, I forgive you that one marriage."
His lip stuck out. But he didn't say anything, perhaps his lisp still bothered him ....
"But now you've fired the honest judges, and put in a group of yes-men. Your new wife wiggles her round little fanny and you obey her whims instead of God's laws. Worse, you spend so much time in her tent that the Israelites grumble they have no government. Even Zipporah has come ..."
Aaron finally got the courage to interrupt. "I was happy for you in your first marriage. This time I agree with Miriam. Israel needs you. They need a leader who isn't distracted by a beautiful young wife. She isn't even a Hebrew. What are you thinking?"
Moses screwed up his face like he does when he's angry and scared, or preparing a magic trick.
God's booming voice, the angry, ugly, mean voice that was all I'd heard from God for far too long, interrupted Aaron. "If I am unhappy with Moses for taking a new wife, I will tell him. If I think Moses is doing poorly at governing, I will tell him. It's not your place to criticize him."
Suddenly my skin burned all over my body. I looked down: my flesh was white and rotting with leprosy. Chunks of it fell off on the sand. I screamed.
Moses looked heavenward. "Lord, heal my thithter. Pleathe! For me! Let her live!"
Just as suddenly, my skin was whole again, but rotting bits remained scattered about my feet, and my flesh still tingled. I wasn't grateful. Instead, great wrath burned inside my breast.
My breast that had never nursed a baby because I'd dedicated my life to God and the Children of Israel. The whole tent rattled as the voice boomed again. "You must banish her for one week."
"Why?" I sputtered. "I was just being his big sister, taking care of him, as you have commanded me these past 90 years."
The God voice kept talking. "If her father had spit on her, she would be unclean for a week. How much more so, now."
Moses didn't argue. Aaron the wimp didn't defend me. Moses pointed out the open flap. "Go!
Remove your uncleanneth from among uth!"
I stood, shaking with unresolved fury, trying to catch a fleeting memory that was somehow vital to understanding what had just happened. Without it, it was like trying to solve a riddle without one of the true clues, but a confusion of false ones. Making nothing but unrelated phrases. Without my one special memory, the rest wouldn't come together. I knew it was there. Somewhere. Something about Moses ...
Moses kept pointing. Aaron couldn't meet my gaze. I stood tall as I could, and marched out. Still
trying to chase down that memory ...
I remembered vividly, when God first talked with me. I was eight, and Moses a baby, sucking at our mother's breast.
God said then, "Miriam, I love you and will give you a long life. I formed you, a Hebrew, in your mother's womb for a special purpose. Long ago, I promised your ancestor Abraham that I would give Canaan to his descendants. Your baby brother will lead them there. Your duty is to watch over him, and keep him out of trouble. Later you will help him lead the children of Israel out of Egypt. You are precious to me."
"I will do all that you say," I answered. God surrounded me with love and sang to me. "Bless-ed be Miriam, Daughter of Israel. Daughter of Israel. Bless-ed be she!"
For the first time, I danced to the Lord's love song.
Hadn't I done what God ordered? When our mom put Moses into a pitch-coated basket floating on the Nile river, I followed Moses until I saw him safely rescued by Pharaoh's daughter. I thanked God for sweetening her heart.
I watched over Moses. For years. For decades. Waiting. Hoping. Wanting our people's freedom.
Meanwhile, I turned down many suitors, to be free to do the duty God commanded of me. Only Aaron married and had children.
Then Pharaoh's daughter died, and Moses, mourning her, happened to see an Egyptian supervisor strike a Hebrew worker. Moses killed the Egyptian, and I helped Moses hide the body. I urged Moses, "Flee for your life!" Moses was still my little brother, used to taking my advice. He traveled to Midian, because he had heard a powerful holy man lived there.
After that I lost track of Moses for years. I couldn't follow him. I was a midwife and prophetess, working in Goshen, that province of Egypt where we Hebrews settled in our ancestor Joseph's time.
Eventually Moses sent word that he was coming, bringing his wife and sons. I looked forward to
meeting them. Still, his marriage and fatherhood seemed like a betrayal. I hadn't married. I'd
stayed ready. Talked with God every day about the plight of the Israelites. Why hadn't he? I was
still Miriam, daughter of Israel, bless-ed be she.
When Moses saw me, he ran towards me. "God wanth me to be hith prophet. He wanth me to lead our people out of Egypt."
"Finally!" I muttered under my breath as I hugged him. His warm broad back felt tense. "That's wonderful!" I told him.
"Thatth not all." Moses held up his walking staff. "Thee! If I throw thith thtaff down, it turnth into a thnake!"
I laughed. "You've always loved magic tricks."
Pouting, Moses picked up the snake by its tail and it became a walking stick again. "Itth God'th thign," he snapped.
I knew better. "Moses, God didn't give you that trick. You've been doing it since you were a boy. All Pharaoh's magicians can do that!" Then Moses put his hand under his cloak and pulled it out. It was white with leprosy. I shrieked.
Moses smiled. "Thilly woman. Don't you know the differenth between a thign and a trick?" He put his hand under his cloak and pulled it out again, healthy and whole. I laughed with relief. I had remembered seeing that trick at the palace, too.
Suppose ... just suppose he'd improved it. That what seemed leprosy on me was only another of his tricks.
But Moses did free us from slavery. Not by sweetening Pharaoh's heart, like God had sweetened Pharaoh's daughter's all those years ago. Moses brought plagues onto Egypt.
Finally, after ten plagues, Pharaoh agreed to let us go. I sang a song of thanks to God. He answered back, "Bless-ed be Miriam. Daughter of Israel. Daughter of Israel. Bless-ed be she."
Afterwards, I saw Moses later chatting cozily with that attractive Cushite woman, but I thought nothing of it then.
Then God hardened Pharaoh's heart again. Here we were, families, children, livestock, camped on the shore of the Red Sea. The ground began shaking beneath our feet. We looked back. It was Pharaoh's chariots, horses and 60,000 soldiers. Nobody thought they'd come to wave us goodbye.
Moses said not to worry. The Angel of God made the pillar of fire burn protectively behind us all night while God blew on the Red Sea, drying a path for us.
Well, Moses said it was God. But God made the heavens and Earth in one day. He could part the sea in a few heartbeats. Only a magician needed all night.
Next morning, we crossed the Red Sea on dry land, between towering walls of water. As the last stragglers struggled onto the other shore, the Egyptians entered the path. Soon the whole army was galloping across the sea bottom. Then Moses let the water go and drowned them all. We felt safe for the first time since Moses began his rabble-rousing. I dug out my tambourine and danced and sang for joy.
Other women joined me. "Sing to the Lord who loves his people, and freed us all from slavery!"
Afterward, God sang to me privately, "Bless-ed be Miriam. Daughter of Israel. Daughter of Israel. Bless-ed be she."
But time passed, and I began to realize how wrong things were. Everybody went to Moses instead of God with their problems. With Moses enjoying every minute. I should have talked to him then, but this was his show. I hoped once we were safe in Canaan, he'd become a normal man again. But for now Moses was hogging God for himself and God belongs to everybody.
But Moses seemed to have things under control. We were eating and drinking regularly in the desert. That was far more impressive to me than any of the plagues.
Finally, we came to Mt. Sinai, where God, or at least a lot of fire and smoke and rumbling, did
come down. The ground shook worse than from the armies of Pharaoh. But it wasn't the loving
voice I'd heard all my life. It sounded more like Moses when he was angry. Smoke and fire
God's voice was kinder when He gave the ten commandments. They were simple direct laws. Not the silliness that Moses was always coming up with. Like "God says 'wash your clothes today,'" or "God says 'don't have sexual relations today." Listening to Moses, you'd think God was playing a children's game of Pharaoh says. God let Moses get away with it all. I shouldn't have.
By now, Moses was paying too much attention to the Cushite woman and neglecting his duties. Even his own judges protested. So he kicked them out and appointed seventy new yes-Moses, you-are-God-Moses judges. Then Moses married the Cushite woman. Guiltily: no wedding feast, no celebration. He just took her into his tent in front of everyone and closed the flap.
Which drove Zipporah to complain to me, and Aaron and me to go to Moses.
I kept going over and over my memories. What had I missed? Where had I gone wrong? When had God changed so?
Had God changed? Almost everything could be explained as Moses' tricks. Had God simply left
it to Moses? And Moses, as always, made a mess?
The rumbly loud mean God voice didn't sound like the God I had known and loved since childhood.
Mean God voice.
But the mean God voice couldn't be Moses' trick, because Moses lisped. Had always lisped, despite everything Pharaoh's daughter tried to cure him. Always lisped. Always --
Wait! Had he?
No! I had found the missing clue!
Pharaoh's daughter had brought in all sorts of teachers and magicians to cure Moses's lisp. All failed.
Except one. One succeeded, partly. He taught Moses to throw his voice. Part of doing that involves holding your tongue differently. Moses never lisped when he threw his voice. But only then. When he talked normally, he lisped.
If Moses could still throw his voice ...
Moses didn't lisp when he threw his voice.
The mean God voice could be just another trick!
If I was right, then all the plagues, all the deaths, weren't acts of God. Just my magician brother. Too horrible to think about. But if God had done this to me, that was even worse.
Either Moses doesn't deserve to govern the Hebrews ... or God doesn't deserve to be God! All
these years. Helping Moses out of scrapes, saving his life, advising him ... and this is how he
So much I'd missed, the family I could have had, the grandchildren I could be enjoying. I'd given all my love to my brothers and to God. Now I had no one. One brother was punishing me, the other hadn't defended me, and God was ignoring me -- when I was only doing my duty. I tried to forgive them. I argued with God in my head. I was right. God was wrong. God has changed His mind before, admitted He was wrong ... like with Abraham. God should apologize soon. I listened desperately for one kind word, one hint that He still cared for me -- just one whisper of love. But nothing came. I wanted a family.
I spread my meditation cloth on the sand and walked around it the direction shadows move on a sundial. Unlike Moses, I've never dealt with magic.
As I walked, I remembered how God made Adam. First God said, "Let there be light." Finally, He said, "Let us make man ..." He created with words. Just words.
But I have said "man" many times and never formed a new man. I kept walking, thinking. When a woman wants to make a new man, she lies with a man. I don't want to do that so late in my life. Finally I lay down and fell asleep pondering. How to make a man?
When I woke, it was Friday morning, and the ground was covered with a double portion of God's
manna. Or Moses' magic manna? Who cared. We always got a double portion Fridays so we
wouldn't have to gather it on Sabbath, Saturday.
I could use the manna to make my man. It would mean fasting, but that would increase my purity, all the better for making a new man. I gathered up the manna. I started with a tiny piece, forming an embryo. I added more small bits, forming a fetus, then a baby.
I wanted a companion. If I can make a baby, why not a man. God's first man was adult. God had said that Man should not be alone, so He made a grown companion for him. I didn't want to be alone. I would make myself a companion.
I added larger bits of manna to my creation. The child became a man. I kneaded the dough and formed him strong and muscular. Like a 30-year-old healthy male.
I formed my man with no genitals, not wanting him distracted with sex. I formed him handsome. But he was just dough. God made man from clay and breathed a soul into the man's nostrils. I kneeled beside my man and breathed into his nostrils. Nothing happened. I could not make a soul. I'd have to get one from somewhere else. But how?
Far away, I saw a woman approaching. She mustn't see my unfinished man! Quickly, I buried him with sand. Then, I met her and warned her away. Afterwards, I sat on my meditating on my cloth, facing away from the encampment.
My man needed a soul. While meditating, I wandered among the souls waiting to be born, or recently dead, or haunting the living. I found many babies, and newly disconnected, tired souls. But I wanted a man, strong enough to rival Moses.
The souls asked me: "Woman, why are you here? You are not a mother seeking her child unborn, or recently departed."
I explained, "I'm lonely, and I have made a man of manna to be my companion. I seek a soul to complete him."
One of the haunting souls spoke to me. "I am the Egyptian, Shep, that your brother slew as I
fought a Hebrew. You helped bury me. Choose me. Give me life again." He looked strong.
"Moses is no longer your friend. He was never mine," said Shep. In my meditation, I took his
In my vision, I saw my man walking beside Moses and Aaron. I had no idea what that meant, but it looked like success.
My trance ended. I looked at the sand where I had buried my manna man. It glowed red. I ran to the grave and dug into the sand, reaching for him. I found his head and pulled him out, like a difficult birth from a dead mother. As I watched, his body grew hair, fingernails, toenails. He took a breath. But there was no sound, no wail of the newborn, showing their initial disappointment with Earth. I've heard that a soul forgets the reason it came when it takes its first breath. It spends the rest of its life remembering.
"Shep," I said. "Can you hear me?"
"Can you talk?"
He shook his head.
"Do you remember why you came?"
I looked into his eyes. They glowed red. I sat next to Shep, put my arms around him. "I want a
companion for my old age. God has rejected me. My brothers have rejected me. I have no family.
I will be good to you."
Shep could not talk, but I felt no companionship from him. Only hatred. Hatred of Moses.
He wanted to kill Moses! Perhaps this was his equivalent to a baby's cry. I hugged him harder,
then stroked his shoulder. "No," I told him gently as if talking to a child. "I can't let you do that.
Moses is my brother."
"Shep, I know you are angry. But consider this: when Moses killed you, he did you no permanent harm. You're fine. You're with me now."
That seemed to calm him. He settled against me. But I still sensed his hatred. This wasn't why I made a man! I wanted to forget about Moses and God. Only Shep was somehow an embodiment of my crazy impulses. His thoughts were ones I'd never act on.
Suddenly I found myself muttering, "I've lost all my dreams. Moses took Shep's dreams away. Why should Moses have his dreams when we can't have ours?"
What was Moses' dream? To bring the children of Israel into the promised land.
Why should he be the one to fulfill this dream? It was mine first. He walked away and betrayed it. Stole it from me. I should take it away from him. If God still wants to bring His children to Canaan -- fat lot He cares about them, leaving them to Moses' mercies -- let Him figure it out on His own, without my help!
A week later, Shep and I returned to camp, then we all packed up and traveled to the Paran desert.
There, Moses decided to send scouts to explore Canaan. Was he starting to doubt God? Canaan is the promised land. It was good enough for Abraham until the drought and famine that brought our ancestors to Egypt. If the land is still sterile, God can make it fertile again. Why send scouts?
Then Shep put an arm around my shoulders, and I knew.
Shep joined the Canaan scouts. Only I knew he existed, so only I missed him. I knew his mission. The scouts would not love the land God has given us.
The meditation link held. Even when he was away from me, I could see what Shep saw: the giant descendants of the Nephilim, beside whom our scouts looked like grasshoppers. Walled cities. Armies in training. Even every thistle or nettle, he showed me. In the background
were pomegranate trees heavy with luscious fruit, grape vines sagging with bulging clusters. Canaan was a land of milk and honey, but the scouts would not report the goodness they saw. Shep managed that, without saying a word.
Part of me wanted that fruitful land. Yet a sharper deeper piece wanted Moses to suffer. Even if that meant I would never enter Canaan.
When the scouts returned, Shep had affected all but two. Only they told the truth: that Canaan was fertile, flowing with milk and honey. The rest of the scouts couldn't stop talking about the giants, nettles, walled cities and armies. Moses was furious. He said God was furious, too. We'd come all this way to the promised land and our people didn't want it. So God commanded that we wander longer in the desert. Shep and I were content.
Then we ran out of water. Moses said God would give us another miracle, to quench our thirst.
But this time, Shep walked behind Moses and Aaron. Like in my vision. I knew something dreadful was about to happen. Moses struck a large rock, twice. Water gushed out, and the people and livestock drank. I waited for Moses' speech. He always spoke about the greatness and goodness of God and how thankful we should be to God for giving us blessings. But Moses was angry, Shep was feeding his anger. There was no speech.
Then we all heard God's voice. God was talking to Moses and Aaron, but we all heard it. "Because you did not thank me and honor me in the sight of the Israelites, you will not lead them into Canaan. You will die in the desert, never setting foot in the promised land."
I had wanted Moses punished. But not even set foot in Canaan? Moses deserved that much. Shep had gone too far!
I finally understood why God destroys people he had made. Shep was too dangerous, too willful, too evil for me to let him continue. And I understood Moses, why he'd thought magic was a shortcut to getting what he wanted. It's not. It only makes things worse for the people you love. It was time to stop the magic.
I took my meditation blanket outside the camp. Shep followed. I had made him live by dancing
sunwise around him. Now, I danced anti-sunwise.
I danced, faster and faster. I shook my tambourine. I spun. Faster and faster. The red color faded from Shep's chest. Bless-ed be Miriam. Daughter of Israel. Daughter of Israel. Bless-ed be she. I felt the heat of God in my own breast. I danced. I sang.
Shep's color faded to a pale ember, and went out. Then I knew that God does not hate those he punishes or those he kills. Their job is done. My job was done. God would get His people to Canaan without Moses, without Aaron ... and without me. His love for us would continue beyond our deaths. Bless-ed be Miriam. Daughter of Israel. Daughter of Israel. Bless-ed be she.