Poetry Place

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By Jennifer Rudick Zunikoff

In this week’s parsha we learn that Moses’ siblings, first Miriam and then Aaron, have died. We are not told how Moses and Aaron reacted to Miriam’s passing. The text leaves many holes for us to fill.


What does the Torah say about Moses’ relationship with his older sister Miriam? We know of only a few powerful moments of interaction between them. Miriam watched over Moses as he floated on the river in his little ark knowing Pharaoh wanted her brother dead. When Pharaoh’s daughter discovered Moses, Miriam arranged that for their mother to nurse him. We can imagine Moses’ deep appreciation for Miriam.

When, as an older woman, Miriam was stricken with a spiritual and physical disease, Moses called, “Oh God, please heal her.” This urgent prayer speaks of Moses’ love for Miriam and his fervent hope that she recover, and she did. But when Miriam died later, how did Moses express his loss? Did he speak at her burial? What did he say?

 

My Sister, Miriam

You dreamed of me while I grew
within our mother’s womb

When babies floated face down
upon a river of darkness
You saw light
You perceived promise

Young and wise
You comforted our mother
as she birthed a free child
into an enslaved world

With heavy heart and honest prayer
you set me upon the River Nile
You watched over me

You saw the wide-eyed
daughter of Pharaoh
lift me
and an entire people
into her arms

Your words to her ensured that
I would drink of our songs and stories
and our mother’s milk

When Mother
was forced to work
You mothered me

You spoke to me in potent Hebrew
You sang to me in languages
that had not yet been born
You offered me past and future

You felt God there with me
When I had not yet felt the Fire
When I had not yet heard the Voice
You knew

When you had lived
through ten summers
and I through three
you walked me
across the river to the
Pharaoh’s daughter
When you crossed
back over the water
I thought I would
never breathe again

Across the Nile
I watched you
Even at a distance

You were strength
You were sustenance

When all around
me was illusion
You were reality

When I began to think that
Egypt was the answer

You, Miriam
brought me back
to the question
Of who I was
Of who I am

I went to the fields
I finally saw
I finally knew
My people were your people

Overwhelmed
I killed a man
I fled
I left you and Aaron
and our people behind

Wise woman that you were
You did not follow

When I returned
I was changed
I had felt the Fire
I had heard the Voice

You and Aaron
Held God’s words

Until I could speak them
to Pharaoh

While our neighbors
suffered for days
the pain
we bore for centuries
I searched for quiet

I listened to the words you
shared with the women

The prayers I could not
release from my heart
Were on your lips

I listened to you comfort
the women and children
as the Angel brought death

We were enveloped by the screams

We crossed the desert
We stepped through the sea
We each danced
We each sang
We each praised the Holy One

But never did we escape the
screams of the Egyptian women

And never did we discuss
the howling holes those
shrieks left in our hearts

Those shrieks that could
have erupted from
our own mother’s throat if
Death’s messenger had
fallen upon me instead

In the wilderness,
the wails of the
Egyptian mothers
reverberated inside me

I could no longer look to you
without hearing their screams

Even as I listened to God
I did not listen to you Miriam

You who first brought holiness to me
You who perceived promise
You who saw light

You feared for me
You feared for my wife
You feared that I lived in seclusion
in the midst of the people

You suffered disease
You endured shame
I prayed for you

You healed,
But I left you alone

Now you have left us alone

You were like the waters
that will one day
quench our  thirst for freedom

But today, our well runs dry

With heavy heart and honest prayer
We go on

Because of you Miriam

I see the light
I perceive the promise
Because of you

Because you were my sister

 

Poetry Place is a new feature of the Baltimore Jewish Times. We look forward to receiving your poetry for consideration for publication in next month’s Poetry Place. Send submissions to editor@jewishtimes.com.

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