Monday, April 21, 2008

מועדים לשמחה

As promised, something Pesach related. I wrote the following piece a few years ago. It is based on some of the midrashim (oral history) surrounding the slavery in Egypt and the Exodus from Egypt.
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My husband is working in the far fields now. I see him only rarely and when I do see him, our relations are strained. He is broken by the labor and broken by Pharaoh’s edict. He arrives, he bathes, he sits at the table. I feed him the food I have worked laboriously to collect and even more laboriously to prepare. He eats it as though it were dust. I have dressed carefully for him, but he does not notice that either. I tell him “you took me back as your wife. You are supposed to be my husband again.” His response is always the same, that Amram can say what he wants, but Amran's words do not change Pharaoh’s decree. Why bring a child into the world just to kill it? It does me no good to bring up Miriam’s argument, that perhaps we will have a daughter we can keep. Him: So we will die out in the next generation, a nation of barren old women? So the conversation goes, week after week, for months. He comes and he leaves and each week he is further and further away from me. He will not touch me.

Goshen is full of women like me. I can see it in the faces of the women when their husbands are arriving, and even more after they leave. I can feel it in the tension between us. We argue over little things. This one grabbed the largest watermelon even though the other had a hand on it first. That one’s child cries too loudly at night. A brood of bickering, cackling hens is what we have become. There is a woman who specializes in spells and potions and she has done a brisk business. I went to see her more than once myself. But that is falling off now. We all realize that no potion will break this spell. So the ill will and the fever grows.

Today he is back in the far fields. He left yesterday, this visit no different from the previous ones. I am hot with anger and frustration as I go about my work today and when I arrive at the Nile with my water jar it comes to my mind to step in. Maybe the waters will ease my temper. The water swishes cool and soothing around the skin of my feet and calves. And then, what is this? Beneath the surface of the water I see glowing swarms of sleek fish. The river is so full of them that they look like a sheet of molten silver under a clear glass layer of water. Have they always been there? They could not have been; I have never noticed them before. But here they are now, and they tease and play, nibbling gently on this toe and gliding seductively across the skin of my ankle. They give me ideas. Without leaving the river, I kneel down and lower my jug into the water. The fishes jump through the mouth of the jug joyfully, as though beckoned. I stand up and raise the pitcher to my shoulder and as I walk home I hear the water sloshing in the jug and imagine the fish dancing in the water, twisting and spinning in their play. When I arrive at the house, I can hardly believe the quantity of fish I have collected. In the end, I have to refill my jug three times; otherwise I will not have enough water for the day.

Now I have a plan and a purpose. Half of the fish I take to the market. Even dead in the basket the fish somehow retain their fresh, lively appearance and within minutes my basket is empty. With the coins I have received in exchange I buy a jug of wine. I do not buy the the largest jug, but rather one of good quality, the type that makes one joyous as it goes down. Then to my home, where I clean the rest of the fish. I spend hours in labor and all the while I am praying….a mindless, heartfelt please G-d, please. I am not even sure what I am asking for, really.

At last I am done. The pot of cooked fish is gently loaded into one basket, and the jug into another. I am at the door and ready to go, but wait! Back when we were first wed, long before the edict, my husband used to tease me. I would be arranging my hair in the mirror and he would grab it from me. “Oh no, I am far more beautiful than you!” he would cry, leering into the mirror. I would snatch it back. “You? No, I am the most beautiful”. Thus we would banter until he would stop and say “Yes, you are the most beautiful”. And I would respond, “No, it is you”. And then…well, it does not help to think about it now…. Or maybe it does? I slip the mirror into my pocket and with the baskets in my hands, set off to find my husband. Perhaps, perhaps, there is hope for us yet. Who knows what futures one can see in a sheet of glowing silver.

14 comments:

Batya said...

Wow!
That is really great writing.

Risa said...

Well done!

Chairwoman of the bored said...

Beautiful

Anonymous said...

Wow! Great writing! Do you have any more?

shira0607 said...

Very nice!

Yehudit said...

I once heard Aviva Zornberg lecture on this midrash. Her shiurs are impossible to summarize, but I have my notes somewhere ..... Your retelling is wonderful.

marshymallow said...

cool!

John said...

Ah, I've missed these little tales. Thank you!

StillinShidduchim said...

Wow. That was great, Gila. It left me wanting more...what happened next? Thanks for bringing some of the Pesach story to life!

RivkA with a capital A said...

I love historical fiction -- the way it brings to life our past.

Nice job personalizing the story and making it real...

Share more...

Moadim L'Simcha!!
RivkA

Anonymous said...

Why don't you write the word God in full?

kleine Maus said...

Free Willy was more exciting!

Leah said...

Beautifully written. I found your blog recently and read through all the posts. You are a gifted writer.

faith/emuna said...

well even if you didnt do a 'proper seder' you seemed to have fulfilled the requirement of seeing yourself as having left egypt - or at least of being in egypt. hope you had a happy holiday.