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Bridges: A Jewish Feminist Journal 12.1 (2007) 15-17

Simchat Miriam
Joy Ellen Rosenberg

Whispered among women, from grandmother to youngest girlchild, the tale of Miriam's birth re-enters the world. Then, as now, it was a time of deep darkness. Then, as now, we await and pray for the coming of light.

* * *

Night lay heavy in the hut where a slave woman labored. The women who had kept her company through the long evening finally had gone home to their own families, wearied from many hours in the hot darkness, to ready themselves for another hard day in the fields or noble houses. Only Yocheved's mother remained by her side, but this was more than sufficient, since old Shifra had guided many lives safely into this troubled world.

"Rest, little mother," the midwife murmured to her daughter, brushing back damp black curls from Yocheved's pallid face. "The babe will come when she's ready. There's plenty of time."

Yocheved relaxed slightly, the fleeting touch of her mother's hand bringing a warm memory of childhood bedtimes. The birthing stones lay waiting beside the pallet, placed in the proper direction to face the morning light. Shifra always took great care with such things, even when her own grandchild's fate was not at stake. Shadows from the single oil lamp flickered wildly on rough brown walls. Many hours remained before the dawn.

"When she's ready?" Yocheved struggled awkwardly to sit, her small stubborn body straining with its restless burden. "I've dreamt [End Page 15] many times this child is a boy. A brave, strong boy to lead our people to freedom…"

"Woman, you've got the gift but you don't have the focus!" Shifra spoke more sharply than she intended. "Look inward now," more gently. "That child of whom you speak still sleeps in the future. This one," she smiled and leaned stiffly back on muscled haunches. "This one is ours. This one is a girl."

"Well, let her be born already," snapped Yocheved. She shifted restlessly on the soft but tattered cloths. "I can't bear any more of this pain." Shifra shrugged and did not bother to reply.

Night sounds stilled, the slight breeze settling among tiny mud huts. The village slept. Even the constant bass thrum of frogs down by the river seemed muffled. Shifra waited patiently, closed her eyes, drifted through memory clouds of many long nights beside laboring Hebrews. Yocheved moaned in resigned frustration and drifted into unsettled dreams. She hated the deep blackness. Would this night never end?

Abruptly, the first sharp sliver of new moon pierced a corner of the open doorway. Yocheved awoke to searing pain; Shifra leaped to her feet, old age forgotten, and without a word helped her daughter to squat on the stones, supporting the woman's weight on her own strong round arms.

Ah—that moment when the universe hesitates, when the chasm opens to receive its potential, that instant between past and future, between what might be and what is, between darkness and light, between male and female—and at last, with a cry of joy and fear, Shifra caught her new grandchild in her arms.

"Yes, yes, my little one," the old woman crooned soothingly, as she severed the cord, cleaned and comforted the mother, wiped and swaddled the infant. Did she speak to the baby or the mother? They were all little ones to Shifra. She chanted under her breath as she bustled around the hut:

Oh Shekhinah
see her beauty
she comes with the moon
she dances on light
she sings in the dawn

Yocheved eased back on the mat and sighed deeply with exhausted relief. If her mother hummed, then all was well. The baby was healthy and whole, was she not? That was all that mattered. And of course it was a girl; Yocheved knew this without being told. Just as Shifra had said. There was no point in arguing with a prophet.

But Yocheved was too happy to feel annoyed. "Let...


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pp. 15-17
Launched on MUSE
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Archived 2012
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