I could have never believed it. What I saw, what we all saw, was unlike anything we had ever seen before.
I looked at the man Moses, holding up his staff, calm resolve written in every line of his body. I knew that my mouth was agape, but I couldn't seem to close it. What had been the Red Sea was now two walls of water, and in between: a path of dry land. A path to run from the Egyptians.
Three weeks prior
Baba called us all inside, said he had a message for us. I walked alongside Maro, my cousin.
"Do you think he will let us stop working, Isaac?" Maro asked me.
I simply shrugged. I knew the answer, of course. Baba wouldn't let us stop working; he was a simple man, who never left time for idleness or laziness. Maro knew all this of course, but he let himself hope too often.
"Maybe the Pharaoh has finally listened to Moses and allowed us to leave!" Maro's enthusiasm was not shared by anyone in our household. He was only eight years old, but he had an overabundance of hope.
My Maman had spoken to his Maman, sharing her concern for Maro. Ialsi had simply said, "Do not worry for my child, Sali. He is who God wants him to be."
I had wondered about what Ialsi had said for a long time. If God could make Maro hope, then why could he not free us from Egypt? Strike the Pharaoh from his throne and set us free. My Baba had asked Moses about this several times, so much so in fact, that the man started to grow impatient. He told Baba to bring his concerns to Aaron.
Maro's laugh cut into my thoughts. I looked around to his other side to see our cousin Depa walking alongside him.
She smiled at me, her white teeth shining through in contrast to her dirty face. "Shalom, Isaac. Are you and Maro going to Isma's house?"
We continued on in silence, the lazy sheep slowly walking past us, bending down every few minutes to chew the sparse grass.
We arrived at Baba's house. He was the head of our big family, so all the gatherings took place here. And I was his third son.
As we walked into the crowded room, I scowled at my brothers, Joseph and Halsa. They had been my father's favorites since I was five. A memory bit deep.
"Maman! Isaac won't let go!"
I grunted as I tried to get my bread back from Halsa.
"Halsa! Let go," cried Maman from the other room. He refused to obey her but tried harder to remove the bread from my hands.
Baba emerged from his prayer room. "What is the problem here? Isaac? Halsa?"
Halsa let go of the bread and began to weep. "Isaac stole my morning bread, Baba. He won't give it back!"
Baba took the bread from my hands, almost knocking me over with the force of his yank. He handed it to Halsa, telling him to be more careful with his food. Halsa smirked at me as Baba led him away, the look in his eyes sending waves of anger through me. I didn't want to let Halsa win, but he was so much older than me. So much bigger than me.
I shook my head to clear the memory from my mind as Baba began to speak. "My brethren and my sons, and my brother's sons, Moses has declared to the Pharaoh a new plague, along with instructions for all of us. We have kept an unblemished lamb in our home for seven days, as you well know." He gave my Maman a pointed look and she smiled weakly, a cringe almost forming on her brow. Baba continued, "Tonight, we are to feast on the lamb and spread its blood on our doorposts."
Several of my Baba's brothers looked at one another, murmuring. I sharpened my concentration to hear them, but Baba spoke louder with his next words, canceling any hope I might have had of overhearing them.
"We are to eat standing, prepared to leave."
At this, the whole household erupted into pandemonium. I heard only snippets of what was said. Maman complaining about her weak leg. Joseph telling Baba that eating standing up was foolish. My cousin Iesah shouting to her husband that it was the Lord's command. Maro asking me if Pharaoh was finally letting us go.
"ENOUGH!" Baba's voice rang out. I could still hear the echo bouncing off the walls in the wake of the immediate silence. My cousins all looked at Baba, ashamed.
He looked at us each in turn, no small feat as there were over fifty of us in that room alone. "Now," Baba continued in a quiet voice, "it is the Lord's command." I saw Iesah smirk at her husband. "We will do all these things because they are God's commands."
I ate impatiently that night, waiting for some action. The atmosphere in the house was calm, unlike my jumpy nerves. We all ate quietly, the only sound heard was the water dripping from a hole in the ceiling and the mighty wind that pushed on our mud-brick house. I jumped from one foot to another, my sandals slipping off my feet.
Another thing we had been instructed to do was to wear our sandals and our cloaks, as though prepared to leave.
I looked at my sister, Oesha. She ate patiently, but then again, she had always been patient. Maman joked that she had been the most patient of her children, as she had refused to come out when Maman had given birth to her. She had been a full two weeks late.
Oesha glanced at me, then flashed me a grin. I smiled back. Oesha was my best friend. My older brothers had never looked after me, but my eldest sister was always by my side. She vouched for me when Halsa attempted to get me in trouble and she taught me how to do many interesting things. She taught me how to turn my eyeballs upwards to make it look as if I had none, which was what I was doing right now.
I jumped, looking at Baba. "Yes, Baba."
Stop making those faces to your sister. You're going to scare her."
I looked down at the bread in my hands. "Yes, Baba."
I took the risk to glance up at Oesha, and she smiled at me. I looked back down to my bread, taking a bite of the harsh, unleavened thing. Yet again another thing we had to do. Eat unleavened bread.
I sighed. Well, at least it's not locusts.
The angel of death passed overhead, looking for the houses without the lamb's blood. He entered into the home of an Egyptian family, smelling the blood of the eldest child. Nearing his bed, the angel saw that he slept peacefully. He came up close and breathed on his face. Dark wisps of death slithered into the boy’s nostrils, making their way into his body.
The angel turned and left the dead boy's body behind for his family to find in the morning.
He passed over the Hebrew's houses, seeing as they ate standing. But they weren't his goal tonight. He continued to all the houses that had no lamb's blood, silently killing all the oldest sons.
When he was done, he set his sights on the Pharaoh’s house. There was only one more victim tonight.
I heard cries early in the morning, before the sun took its first step onto the stairwell of dawn. Maman rushed to the door, then covered her face with her hands.
My brothers and I rushed outside to see, but Oesha held me back. "I do not think you want to see this, Isaac."
When they returned, Halsa and Joseph's faces were pale, making me grateful that I heeded Oesha’s warning.
Baba rushed outside. He came back in looking like Halsa and Joseph had, pale and nervous. "It's happened." Baba's voice was shaky and very unlike him. His usually calm composure was cracked, a fissure along his defenses that widened with every breath he took. "We must wait for news from Moses."
The air he had about him made us all nervous. The fact that something could slip past his defenses like that was nerve-racking for us all.
Oesha moved to speak with my brothers. They spoke quietly, huddled close so no one could hear.
When they finished, she came close and spoke to me in hushed tones, "Baba is right. It has happened. All the firstborn of the Egyptians are dead. They died in their sleep."
I shivered. Joseph was the firstborn in our family, what if he had died? I stopped the thought before the seed could sprout.
Oesha turned, but no one was listening. She looked back at me and continued. "There were no signs that they had been killed from the outside. No knife marks, nothing."
I shivered again. "Why are you telling me this?"
She smiled grimly. "Because you would have found out sooner or later, and I wanted to tell you gently. So that you wouldn't be scared."
I was scared nonetheless. Was this the hand of God? Did he answer my prayer? No, not my prayer. The prayer of his people, who had been in Egypt for four hundred years, forced to slavery by the greedy Egyptians. We had been crying out to him that whole time, waiting for our salvation. Was this God's answer?
Suddenly, Moses appeared in our doorway. "Grab your belongings!" he cried, "The Pharaoh has let us go!"
He turned to tell the next Israelite family as Baba jumped up. "Go! Go! Grab your things, we're leaving Egypt!" Oesha and I did as our father told us, grabbing our meager belongings then going to join the throngs of Israelites that were headed towards the gates of Egypt.
We were encamped almost one hundred miles from Egypt. We’d traveled for five days, and the Sabbath was growing near, so we stopped for the next two days. I was sitting outside our tent, trying to get our fire to start so that we could cook dinner. I wasn’t having much luck, but Oesha stepped in. She’s a much better fire starter than I am.
Two men rushed into our camp. “Moses!” one of them cried, “We must speak to Moses.”
The prophet was summoned while the men panted, tired and sweat-soaked. I watched them for a bit to see what would happen. They would only call Moses if something important needed to be reported to the prophet.
Moses approached, exhaustion written on his face and visible in the way he walked. He spoke in hushed tones with the two men, and I couldn’t hear a thing, no matter how hard I strained my ears. Although I could see, and Moses looked to be more stressed than he had been before.
He turned to speak with someone else and I grew bored watching the men talk. If I could hear them, that would be something, but I was unable to.
That same night, we were sitting outside our tent and eating supper when Baba came. He had just returned from the next camp over. Some meeting with the head of every family had been called. I suspected it had something to do with those men from earlier, but I was sure that we were about to find out.
“Pharaoh is behind us,” Baba told us quietly. “He and his army are following us and he’s enraged.”
Halsa was appalled. “How do we know this, Baba?”
Baba turned to him and Joseph. “Our scouts said so. We sent them back to make sure Pharaoh was not chasing us. It seems that he regrets setting us free.”
“Well, what are we going to do?” asked Maman. I dared not interfere with this discussion. No one was going to ask me anyway, and if I spoke, Baba would scold me.
Baba sighed and Joseph piped in, “We cannot risk spending the Sabbath here.
“I know. Moses will lead us nonetheless. Would we rather be killed by Pharaoh or have to not walk for a day?” He looked at each of us and we said nothing. “Exactly, we are leaving at first light.”
Baba got up and retired back into the tent.
The next morning, we arose before dawn and set out towards the Red Sea. We had packed most of our things the night before, so all we had to do was go.
Oesha and I walked side by side, along with Maro and Depa, who had decided to join us.
“Where do you think we’re gonna go after we get to the Red Sea?” asked Depa.
Maro looked at her oddly, as did I. “What do you mean?” he asked her.
She thought for a moment before answering, “Well, we’ll be blocked in by the Red Sea when we get there. Then what do we do?”
Well, it just so happens that Depa was right. That night, they arrived at the Red Sea. The pillar of fire turned into one of cloud and we camped by the ocean.
I went to the shore of the vast ocean to see it. I was awestruck. I’d never seen any big body of water before. The sparkling water reached all the way to the horizon and probably further. The setting sun was behind me, lighting the surface of the water and making it shimmer. I lost my breath, standing there and watching the waves crash.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” I looked behind me to see Oesha with a serene smile on her face.
I turned back to the Red Sea. “Yeah, it is.”
I felt a hand on my shoulder and I turned again to see Moses and all the Israelites behind him, their belongings in hand.
Moses moved past me, his staff in hand. Dazed, I moved back and Oesha wrapped her arm around me. Maro stepped up next to me, smiling, and Depa grabbed my hand. This feeling of hope was contagious and all around me, my family and friends were smiling at the prophet.
He spread his arms wide, holding the staff above the sea. He spoke, but his words were drowned out by a great wind. The water began to bubble and my eyes went wide. A wide rift split the water, then the sea was cut in half, as if a big knife had split it down the middle.
And then it happened, the Red Sea split before my eyes, two walls of water on either side of a dry path. I knew my mouth was open wide, but I couldn’t seem to close it. I glanced at Oesha and she had the same look on her face that I knew I must have on mine.
Finally, we would be free from the tyranny of Pharaoh. Finally, we would be safe. Finally, we would be free to worship the Lord.