Dreams and Tambourines

Submitted into Contest #88 in response to: Write a story about an ordinary person speaking truth to power.... view prompt

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Holiday Creative Nonfiction

Disclaimer: I don’t believe in coincidence, so I won’t claim that the fact that this story lines up very nicely with one of the stories in Tanach is merely coincidental. I did, however, make up several parts of the story, and have to choose some interpretations over others. Also, for those of you who don’t know, the Hebrews later became known as Jews. If there’s anything else you need translated or explained, feel free to let me know.


***


It was hard for most Hebrews. I was from the tribe of Levi, the one tribe that wasn’t forced to work all day, but still I could feel my nation suffering. Even my name showed the sadness of our people. Miriam, or Mar-yam, bitter waters. My name was for the tears my nation was shedding out in the hot sun. And what effect did this all have on me? I’ll tell you. Because of what I saw in the fields, my mind grew faster than it should have. At this part of the story, I was only five years old.


True, I was the daughter of our leaders, but still. I was one of the midwives for the Hebrews. I didn’t do much, just help my mother, but she brought me with her on the day the king summoned us. It was a bit scary, going before the king of Egypt, but my mother reminded me that the true King (G-d) was really in charge, and the pharaoh couldn’t do anything to us without permission from G-d.


As we walked into the palace, I felt tears forming in my eyes. Young Hebrews were all over the place, being forced to sweep sandy floors. The sand was constantly blowing in, and my brethren were forced to remove it. I gave them what I hoped was a reassuring smile and straightened my back. If this was how my people were treated, someone needed to stand up to pharaoh.


We entered the throne room and bowed. As we straightened, we kept our gazes on the floor. It wasn’t for us to look at the human who thought he was a god.


“You are the Hebrew midwives?” his voice was gentle, but I could hear layers of danger beneath the soft noise. “I have a small problem that you can help me with,” he continued, “see, the Hebrews have been having a lot of children lately, and my astrologers say that that could be very bad, so I’ve come up with a very simple solution. When you are delivering babies, it happens rather often that they are stillborn, correct?”


My mother must have nodded, because the pharaoh continued.


“If the baby is a boy, strangle it immediately, before it has a chance to cry. If it’s a girl, you can let it live. Oh, and this is for Levites too.” He didn’t have to say that this was an order, it was obvious. If we didn’t obey, we were at risk of being killed.


“Dismissed!” The pharaoh’s voice rang out with authority.


We backed out of the throne room and turned to go home.


As soon as we were far enough away from the palace, I turned to my mother. “What are we going to do?”


“Don’t worry,” she told me, “everything is in G-d’s capable hands. We will do our jobs.”


When we got home, she went to speak to my father, asking me to watch my little brother. Ahron was only almost two years old, but he was also wise beyond his years.


“What are we going to do?” I asked Ahron as we sat outside our house. I told him the whole story, and he proved to be an excellent listener. “If we don’t listen, we’ll be killed, and then they’ll send someone else who might kill the babies. If we do listen, we’ll be killing innocent children and hurting the mothers too!”


Ahron looked up at me and shrugged. “Abba always knows what G-d wants. He’ll figure out what to do.” And he was right. Our father was the leader of the generation, and he always did know what G-d wanted from us. I hugged my little brother and waited for my parents to come share the decision with me.


It wasn’t long before they came and explained the full dilemma to me. According to our tradition, there are only three things you aren’t allowed to do even if the penalty for not doing it is death. One of them is murder. This raises another question. At what point is the baby considered alive, and therefore a problem to kill. Many say that if it’s never breathed, it’s not really living, but before the baby is born the mother can feel it moving around on its own. If a baby has the ability to kick, it’s probably already alive. So we couldn’t listen to the king. We would have to be careful, but do as G-d wanted and see what would happen.


I knew it was the right thing, but the next day, when my mother and I were called out to deliver the baby of a woman from the tribe of Judah, I was praying the baby was a girl, even though I knew that whatever it was it was. And it was a boy. A boy with the umbilical chord wrapped around its neck so tight, I thought it really was stillborn. But my mother unwrapped the chord, and worked very hard to bring the baby back to life. It took hours, but we finally heard his little cry, and then my mother passed him to me. I calmed him down while cleaning him off, and then handed him over to his mother.


“Why did you work so hard to save him?” I asked my mother later that day, “he was practically dead already.”


My mother looked at me with a smile. “When wicked Pharaoh wants them dead so much that he’s willing to call the midwives to his palace, clearly, they’re very important. G-d must want them alive.”


I smiled back. It made sense.


Months passed before the message came that the pharaoh wanted us to return to his palace. This time, I was not afraid. I walked with my back straight, proud to be a part of the salvation of the Hebrews. We entered the throne room, bowed and straightened. This time, I peeked at the wicked man who thought he could control things.


He had a gold robe wrapped around him, with a leopard skin over his shoulders. He had some slaves, Hebrew and otherwise, standing just passed his shoulders, barely visible past Pharaoh’s large headdress, fanning him with large fans. From my perspective, he wore extra hot clothes just so he could have more slaves work their arms to the bone, while forcing them to stand still for hours.


“My servants have told me that despite our conversation the number of male living births among the Hebrews has gone up, not down.”


“The Hebrews are very experienced with giving birth, your majesty,” I heard my mother say, “They don’t really need us half the time. By the time we get there, they have already heard the baby crying.”


The pharaoh nodded slowly. “Very well. I will figure something out. Dismissed!”


It seemed we were off the hook, but the very next day, we heard the news. Pharaoh’s soldiers were making lists of all the Hebrew expecting women, and were going to pay a visit to the women after they gave birth. If the child was a boy, the soldiers would take him and throw him into the Nile river. As soon as we heard, my parents sent Ahron and me outside and had another discussion.


It wasn’t long before we figure out what they decided. My parents divorced, and at their signal, all the other Hebrew couples divorced as well. Most of the time, I trusted my parents to make the right decision, but this was too much. I knew it couldn’t be right. But who would listen to me?


Months passed, until one night I had a dream. In the dream, I saw my mother with the extra large belly that meant she was with child. When she was ready to give birth, the house filled with light and a voice called out: See the saviour of the Hebrews!


Then the scene shifted. I saw myself sitting on a rock near the Nile, and hundreds of girls ran up to me.


“Miriam!” they cried, “your father has trapped us from being born! We need to be there when the Hebrews are redeemed, but we cannot be born if no one is having children!”


“Don’t worry,” I said, “I will make sure you are born, and when we leave this land, we will play tambourines, sing, and dance together in praise to G-d for saving us.”


And then I woke up. I knew it was more than a dream, and I knew I had to go tell my parents. They were the only ones who might believe a not even six-year-old girl about the future of our people. I knew I had to speak strongly so that my parents would understand it wasn’t just that I longed for another sibling, but that I was worried about the future of our nation.


When morning came, I walked carefully up to my father. I was more afraid then when I had gone to see Pharaoh, but I couldn’t let him see that. Pharaoh was wicked, and my father had made a mistake. I had a huge level of respect for my father that I couldn’t begin to look for with regards to Pharaoh. But I knew I had to deliver the message.


I walked up to my father and stood in front of him, trying to find my voice.


“Miriam,” he said gently, “do you have something to say.”


I took a deep breath and looked him right in the eyes. “Your decree is worse than Pharaoh’s.” I told him, “His decree was only against the males, but yours is against the females as well.”


My father looked at me in surprise, but he understood the message. That very night, he remarried my mother, and soon after, all the other Hebrews remarried as well.


Days passed, and pretty soon, my mother, as well as many other women, were with child. I saw her praying every day, begging for the child to be a girl, but also begging to be able to help our people when they needed her. And, as proof that her prayers were answered, her baby was born early. If she had given birth at the same time as the rest of the Hebrew women, she wouldn’t have been able to deliver their babies.


The baby was born one night, and my mother told me what to do as the baby was born. The house filled with a strong light, and I remembered the dream I had had six months before.


“He’s healthy.” I told my mother as I handed him over.


My father saw that the baby was a boy, and before I had a chance to react, he slapped me across the face.


I could tell he was upset, after all, he had never been in danger of losing his children before, but this baby was practically marked for death. I didn’t say anything because I understood, but when I turned away, I saw little Ahron staring at me and my father with tears in his eyes. Ahron hated fights, so I knew I had to try to console my father.


“Don’t you see?” I asked softly, “he’s destined for greatness.”


“How can he be?” my father asked, “they’ll throw him in the Nile!”


“Not if I can help it.” my mother said softly. “He was born early, they won’t come looking just yet.”


And she devised a plan. We had a hollow in our wall, and we could keep him there between changings and feedings. We had three months before we would have to face the soldiers. So it was. My baby brother was a family secret.


But after three months, I saw my mother preparing a small basket for the baby. I knew she was doing what she felt she had to to help him live as long as she could. She spread tar on the outside to waterproof it, and clay on the inside to protect my baby brother from the smell of the tar. She carefully placed him in the basket, and walked to the water, crying the whole way. I followed, reminding her that G-d is in charge and I knew he would save the baby.


My mother placed the basket containing my brother into the Nile among the reeds and turned away crying more. I didn’t follow her home. I knew G-d would send someone to save him, and I wanted to see how. Plus, I knew the soldiers were likely to come to our house that day, and I didn’t want to see them.


I hid in the reeds and watched the basket gently floating out of reach. All of a sudden, I heard him start to wail. I wanted to swim through the water and save him, but I knew I couldn’t yet.


“Go get the basket.” I heard a voice say. I looked up, and saw the princess of Egypt standing a little further up the river. She was talking to one of her maidservants.


“I can’t,” the maidservant protested, “it’s too far! I’ll drown.”


The princess tried to send her other maidservants, but they both refused too. She shook her head and reached out for the basket. I must have blinked or something, because although the basket was too far for someone to reach from the shore, the princess was holding my brother.


“The poor thing must be hungry!” the princess exclaimed, “go find a wet nurse!” this time, her maidservants obeyed. But the baby refused to nurse.


“It must be a Hebrew baby.” One of the maidservants said quietly, “your father would be so mad.”


“The decree said the babies had to be thrown in the Nile. Father never said they couldn’t be taken out. Still, he needs to be fed.”


This was my chance. I stood up and walked over to the princess. I knew she was nice to my brother, but that didn’t mean she would have compassion for me. Still, I walked forward.


“Excuse me,” I began, bowing. “I know of a Hebrew woman who could feed the child. Would you like me to get her?”


The princess studied me and made her decision. “Yes. Go fetch a Hebrew wet nurse. Tell her I will pay her to take care of this child until he is weaned.”


I ran to get my mother.


Once again, my little brother was a secret, but the fact that we were taking care of a baby for the princess was not. She managed to convince Pharaoh, using her loophole, that she could keep him, and when little Moshe, for that is what the princess called him, turned two, he went to live in the palace as a grandson to the very person who wanted him dead.


And after many years filled with their own stories, Moshe did indeed lead the Hebrews out of Egypt. G-d even split the Red Sea for us to get away from the pursuing Egyptians. And eighty years after I had the dream, I finally got to keep my promise.


After seeing all the miracles G-d did to help us successfully escape our tormentors, I pulled out the tambourine I knew I would need, and I finally danced and sang with all those women who, in a sense, I had been G-d’s messenger to rescue from never being born. We played our tambourines in gratitude to G-d for saving us, rejoicing until the first rays of the sun lit the sky, signaling a new dawn for our people.


April 05, 2021 18:32

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8 comments

C. Jay Loren
10:39 Apr 11, 2021

I really do like this retelling. It feels authentic and flows very well (as someone mentioned). I enjoyed reading it very much. :)

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Tessa Takzikab
14:25 Apr 11, 2021

Thanks!

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(I hope you had an enjoyable holiday) I have been told/read this story many times in various situations, and this interpretation is by far my favourite. The way it's told just flows so evenly. I don't mind that you added your own parts, because it just made this more interesting to read, and gave the characters more care. I am not the most religious person, but I could find myself reading this version over and over again.

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Tessa Takzikab
01:29 Apr 07, 2021

[Thanks! I definitely did. Do you have a holiday you celebrate(d) around now?] Thank you so much! I wasn't sure if I should post this one, but it's gotten a very warm reception. Thanks!

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12:24 Apr 06, 2021

I love when people write stories like this! I mean, there's no tag for it, but it's unique and interesting, and you don't see many stories like this, usually!

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Tessa Takzikab
01:45 Apr 07, 2021

Right? I refused to select historical fiction. I had to read through each one to find any tags that sort of fit. Thanks!

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Lemon Lime
05:02 Apr 06, 2021

This is amazing!! I was smiling a lot :) Best line: Ahron hated fights, so I knew I had to try to console my father. :):):) such a nice ending. very interesting about her dreams, too. And the title is perfect!

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Tessa Takzikab
01:49 Apr 07, 2021

Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed the ohev shalom reference :)

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