Off the cliff and into the water - as told by Moses

Haggadah Section: -- Exodus Story

I was raised by two women who were wild in their words but never their deeds. The first would tell me I was a gift. That I came to her in water, that we met submerged, almost equals. With reverence she’d talk to me about myself, it was weird. She also teased me, called me a fish out of water, and here I was in the seat of power with her. Everyone was nice or mysterious, depending. She taught me that power is limiting, and limited, because her desires were answered by the water, and not by her father, or any of her suitors, or any of her beautiful companions or sweet-smelling servants. She was so beautiful, though she could be quite cruel to some of the others in the court when they would display qualities she found unsavory. She had very high standards, and more than once dismissed a courtier over ideological differences or bad boundaries. I usually understood why it had to be done. And while she would never permit them to speak badly of me, I heard whispers about her, when I was quiet and close and they didn’t know. No one understood why she would have rescued me from the river, everyone knew the kind of children they put in rivers. Why did she insist on being called mother. Still, we all knew she was my mother.

The second was my creator. Yocheved, I learned later. I was the one who had reverence in that pairing, though she was not quite as sweet smelling. Just as beautiful, but in a sad, underfed kind of way because of course she didn’t have the power to be buoyant. She always came to me, ate the second she arrived, without even regard for my childhood needs; she never told me I was a gift, or that I was created by water. She said, your people can claim you whether you want to be claimed or not. She told me that life is about jumping off cliffs - maybe there was water maybe there wasn’t, but you still had to jump. Once she’d eaten she reached her hands out to me and wouldn’t let go for a long time - I understood I was being claimed. No one else in the world told me I couldn’t have what I wanted. I didn’t share that with my other mother; it felt like a secret. Until later, I didn’t know where she returned to at night, upriver, but as she left she’d always say “i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart)”.

I carried them both in my heart, but over time they came into turmoil, the parts of them. Various of my peers were brought into the decision-making and I was too, but in ways that felt troubling, at times, like I was being given a job but not because that job needed to be done. I was getting tired of the muddled public opinion that I was some kind of lesser “water baby” or that I was a testament to my mother’s generosity. My creator, though. The last time I saw her before I became a murderer she said I was a significant part of something bigger that hurt people, and that I should imagine what might be - imagine, she said, taking my hand, which she almost never did. Her hand was scarred soft in parts, and warm. She wasn’t usually one to encourage creativity.

My mother’s father was building up into the outskirts and I was sent to survey the progress and “to smile nicely and say encouraging things to those in the arduous tasks of managing the building.” It was a bit insulting, honestly, to be sent to the places no one wanted to go, a city that barely existed yet. My mother had been hoping I’d be given the task of water management, so this was certainly a snub in her eyes. I would accompany the committee on the survey and take measurements to affirm the magicians’ prophecies about the water - I wasn’t told what to do if the measurements didn’t affirm, which later I used to my advantage. Little did I know, the rest of the survey took us farther away from the river than I’d ever been in order to see the dusty blood of my people, the workers.

In all the ways that I thought of myself, for what I suppose was forever until that moment, I didn’t consider that I would become a murderer.

If you turn your head to look one way and then you turn and look the other way, there’s an infinite number of ways in between those two ways to step into. There have been maybe a few moments in my life when the in between ways suddenly became clear. When each measure of sky is a portal to a reality where you made a different choice. Not everyone sees all those realities and chooses murder. My father-in-law told me: “Some have to murder and some have to save. More murder than save. Getting to do both makes a murderer lucky because nothing else can heal it.” At least in my experience saving does help, if not heal, the murder. Because I also know that when you kill, you die.

So, that me died. I saw every reality before me and I jumped off the cliff. Suddenly everything my creator said made sense, and in a moment I felt claimed - I felt that I couldn’t have what I wanted and so I had to make a new world. I was claimed by the desire to be a traitor to the life I was living and anything about it that had brought about the kind of suffering I witnessed there. The cruelty was the point; I was scared, but I wanted a better point.

I jumped off the cliff and there was water below me - as before - and also there was fire. Every element goes into the creation of a human body and what utter magic that is. I have known every day since I murdered him that the man deserved it, that he was just a speck of dust in addition to being a whole world, and that to me he was a symbol, even if he was something else to those who knew him. I don’t think he thought about that when he thought about the lives he took from my oppressed people. As I watched the other deaths caused by my work unfold around me I thought back each time to this cruel person, and to what we started together when he turned to me, laughing in a way that bared every one of his teeth, dripping a kind of cruelty that I saw crackling behind his eyes with dangerous mirth. His nails were clean and soft and oiled, I noticed, when he reached out to me in shock.

I never saw my mother again, not even when I went back to the palace years later as a parent myself. I still wonder what she thinks of my children, my choices. If she defended me around court after I’d fled. Yocheved my creator, though, became my mother. She was the water, and Miriam, who I finally met, carried that forward powerfully.

When I arrived with Aaron, Yocheved met us in the street, took me into her arms, and said child, let’s go home. I’d never been to her house - she said it was my house too since I was born there. I didn’t realize I had been born for a long time, but by then I understood. There was a feast, quietly, with emissaries from various places around the city and the whole family, Aaron and Miriam’s children running around buzzing about a family member they’d never met before. I went to breathe the air and see the sky after a while. A quiet-eyed Miriam came out the kitchen door, and when she looked at me I felt a kind of flush at the recognition of her beauty and stillness. Somehow I thought she was younger than me, then, but I think it was because she was confident, a bit in love with her dreams, I suppose, in a childish way.

“Finally,” she muttered. As she looked at me I felt the back of my neck prickle, and from then on we always kept our word to each other. Even when Yocheved was gone and we had jumped off at least a handful of cliffs together. As it turned out our dreams were similar - and they took us to this desert we’ve taken to calling “the desert of insufficiency and hope.”

The thing I remember most about our first days in the desert is that the clouds were small and moved fast, in clusters. The moon was visible -- full and bright. We lost all sense of time under that deadpan, steadfast moon, sometimes sharp, sometimes hidden, but never without a halo burning the clouds when they covered it. I would watch it for a dreamlike amount of time, thinking of all that had rained down from the sky; all the hope we had, all the things that people would call me now before they’d call me a murderer.

Ariel Kates

Inspired to create
your own Haggadah?

Make your own Haggadah and share with other Seder lovers around the world

Have an idea
for a clip?

People like you bring their creativity to when they share their ideas in a clip

Support Us
with your donation

Help us build moments of meaning and connection through
home-based Jewish rituals.


contributor image
Esther Kustanowitz
4 Haggadahs44 Clips
contributor image
JQ International
1 Haggadah40 Clips
contributor image
MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger
5 Haggadahs109 Clips
contributor image
1 Haggadah13 Clips
contributor image
1 Haggadah78 Clips
contributor image
Truah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
1 Haggadah36 Clips
contributor image
American Jewish World Service
1 Haggadah44 Clips
contributor image
3 Haggadahs57 Clips
contributor image
Repair the World
12 Clips
contributor image
5 Haggadahs48 Clips
contributor image
Be'chol Lashon
2 Haggadahs27 Clips
contributor image
PJ Library
1 Haggadah17 Clips
contributor image
Jewish World Watch
3 Haggadahs42 Clips
contributor image
Secular Synagogue
10 Clips
contributor image
1 Haggadah9 Clips
contributor image
The Blue Dove Foundation
20 Clips
contributor image
24 Clips
contributor image
Jewish Emergent Network
1 Haggadah22 Clips

Passover Guide

Hosting your first Passover Seder? Not sure what food to serve? Curious to
know more about the holiday? Explore our Passover 101 Guide for answers
to all of your questions.

Haggadot by Recustom, is a free resource for all backgrounds and experiences. Consider making a donation to help support the continuation of this free platform.

Copyright © 2024 Custom and Craft Jewish Rituals Inc, dba Recustom, dba
All Rights Reserved. 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. EIN: 82-4765805.