Through the Water and Into the Fire - as told by Aaron's unnamed daughter

Haggadah Section: -- Exodus Story

Through The Water And Into The Fire - As Told By Aaron's Unnamed Daughter

I was young enough at the time that I felt the danger in growing up, but I didn’t have to go through the worst of it, really. Still, the way things were working, the way we all felt like we were on the edge of something catastrophic without any comfort, or the way the adults would talk in circles, night after night, with nothing solid to grasp onto. That’s what it was like when it all changed. 

We could run around noisily at night in our enclave, but we still had to be careful. Our breathy not-laughter disappeared into the night sky. All us children of Aaron were running around under a bright full moon when my father, who had been off meeting his brother – how he knew to meet him I’ll never know – made an introductory speech to the courtyard. I didn’t even know he had a brother, and somehow I’ve never asked why no one told me sooner. Maybe I don’t want to know.  

Moshe-who-had-been-a-secret looked like his own full moon that night, silvery and like he could see our lives from up in the sky, like he was a floating ember on its way to or from the moon. We didn’t have much, but we loved each other. Looking at him, I picked at the loose threads at the hem of my smock and suddenly wanted things to be different. He smiled at me and I could see all the members of my family in his face, his eyes, his nose, Miriam’s sharp jaw, the smile that still looks exactly like my grandmother’s did.  

When I remember that the story was already unfolding that night, rather than just beginning, I feel baffled. I heard them whispering through the doorway “we can’t do this” before each and every thing they did, and somehow it kept going. 

Now, looking back, I’m struck by how long it all is - the whole process of liberation, and how no one told me it would be forever. If I had known, would I have felt as much hope? Would I have encouraged and fed and connected and held the people around me as I did, or would I have thrown up my hands and said you’re all fucking insane, I’m going to crawl into a cranny in this half-built city you’re all making and the rest of you can go wherever you want?

But they weren’t insane. Being in a state of hope is where I want to be. I’m grateful to be in this place, to be a wanderer, I suppose. From that night when I met my uncle I knew something better would be ahead. I knew it because I heard everything. 

“My sweet” my mother would say, “if eavesdropping were a divine act you would unseat your father and uncle both.” 

That divinity apparently meant that they were never around to be with us. It didn’t matter though - even before Moshe appeared out of nowhere I had Miriam, Anat, and Aya to listen to. Miriam had always lived here, but the others moved in when the cruel ones figured out they were breaking laws and came after them. It was originally meant to be short term, keeping a low profile, but everyone was so obsessed with them they wanted them to stay. Miriam was obsessed with them in a different way; I heard her explaining the life bond and its power, even if its origin remained a mystery. A love story with no beginning, they were. Anat and Aya taught Miriam their customs and rituals and she joined with them because the language spoke to her, too. Then they taught me. They said it was more productive than eavesdropping. 

My uncle was family but he was also royalty, they said. Anat and Aya said that he was a traitor like they were – the ripples went through everywhere when the son of the royal princess absconded on the moral grounds that our oppression wasn’t an acceptable trade for his power. I heard him articulate that one day and something shifted in me. It felt so good to be loved like that. I hadn’t yet seen the miracles - I hadn’t felt the awe yet of watching the planet unleash its power at the bidding of my own family. But listening at the curtain then, the patch I was meant to be sewing into my tunic resting haphazardly on my lap, I heard about visions and miracles that I could only have dreamed of. A wavering fire moving through the unaffected leaves of a low desert tree, sending off embers into the sky to spell out a mandate, a direction into an unknown of our own. Something about that vision wouldn’t leave any of us.  

In the dark days of the plagues, we’d sit with our dried-leaf tea blends and hold hands and cry together, murmuring incantations for comfort. We re-created the incantations with each plague, and again later when we watched a sea give and simultaneously take so dramatically. Many were cheering, so I was glad that Anat and Aya’s tradition explained that it also felt so terrible, even though the people were technically our enemies.  

The last plague, especially, was... well. People were wailing all over the place. My parents held Nadav close and he complained about it. To be those without blood on their doorways was worse. We still carry those times, I can’t deny it. And what we had to go through to get out of the thing once the plagues had finished. 

“How can anyone live unscathed?” is a question Miriam started asking everyone: pilgrims and visitors, even her brothers, who were so excited to become powerful on the other side of leaving that they barely answered. I admire her for that, and for her criticism of those with leadership, across the board. She always encouraged us to consider what we’d been through and what we need - but no one could say she didn’t care because of the well. She gave us water. Sang of it, provided it, made it her own friend. Even as the legacy of water was attributed to Moshe.   

We’d figured out eating and drinking in the desert. Then, the news came. I didn’t know what to think. My uncle and father sat me down together, which should have warned me. Then they told me that I wouldn’t be making it to the milk and the honey. That being born oppressed means one will always feel oppressed, and so I would be kept from the promised land. As though I were some wicked child. As though my whole generation were wicked children. My uncle’s eyes shifted to the floor. My father said “Ah, yes, my children the last generation” and he laughed but in a way like he wasn’t sure if it was funny. Complete lack of control does sometimes inspire laughter, I suppose. 

My head was swimming; the whole dream had been the promised land, and suddenly it’s not for me? What even was the point of wandering? Right then I got word that The Three, as I came to call them - Miriam, Anat, and Aya - summoned me. My stomach rumbled as I walked to their home, crunching over the well-worn ground from which all sustenance had already been gathered that morning while I was with Moses and my father. I felt so tired and worried about why I’d been summoned that I barely noticed the fourth set of eyes in the room. They were hazel, watery in their depth; something shimmered and took flight. 

Miriam nodded across the table toward the owner of the eyes and said simply, “We found you someone.” 

“Anipe,” said the mouth that grinned timidly below the eyes. “My family is Egyptian but we were so happy to get out of that narrow place. We were feeding some of your people and they told us how to survive, but even so sometimes it feels like people don’t know what to do with us.” 

“Well uh, I don’t know what to do with anything, but I’d try, shit.” I found myself saying. “Don’t have a destination, but there’s time to get… somewhere, I guess…” drawing in a breath I watched that grin open in laughter to reveal a bit of tongue within it, and then five mouths were open in laughter together. 

They never told me how they found her amongst the throngs but we came to wander together and I started calling The Three instead The Font of Love. They added “matchmakers” to their list of skills, and we five learned each other’s customs and incantations. We wrote songs and plays and stories together to spark conversation over the long days and months and years. We gave some to the children, hoping they’ll grow and remember and keep our work in mind since they never experienced anything but anticipation for a destination they know they’ll attain - imagine! 

We sang litanies of the miracles, we sat in awe of all it takes to achieve freedom - each moment of darkness, every single hailstone, the exercise of transformative magic, each drop of blood and water. We told stories. We learned to make our own milk and honey. 

The collective, under the leadership of our family members, is also creating new rituals - some of them really quite bloody - to make sense of what we did, what happened to us. Even if we got caught up in the tantalizing dream of being each our own direct conduits to the divine, ultimately we all agreed that it was especially nice to receive the collective mandate to not kill. Aside, of course, from sacrifices. 

Miriam refused to participate in the ritual slaughter - not her metaphor, she said. Anat, Aya, and Anipe didn’t do that kind of thing. They talked about the animals they’d grown up with, naming and loving them, each one had a distinct society of creature neighbors to make their days beautiful. I could have participated in the slaughter myself, but what for? The Font of Love would toss their quick loaves over the coals when we had access to the ingredients, and the smoke of the singed edges was an offering, too. 

When Miriam got sick, me and Anipe were the only ones there; we’d already been sitting together for the 30 days of mourning. Anat and Aya had gone within an hour of each other. We brought her some teas, whatever we had, but she barely noticed. She’s lost so many parts of herself, it makes sense for that to manifest physically. So much loss, even as the wildflowers bloom and the herbs dry hanging from the ceiling, sending their fragrance of contentment. 

She looked at us and held our hands in her hands. We took care of her. Went for walks - going through the doorway sideways so that she - grumbling all the way - could keep our arms linked through each of hers as we emerged into the quiet outskirts of our camp. We talked to all sorts of people engaged in survival and enjoyment with each other. 

Now we are the three - Anipe and I, with our matchmaker who we’d catch looking at us dreamily when she thought we weren’t paying attention. We talk every night about how we’re dreaming of freedom, of milk and honey, and we find new definitions for that every day. We remind each other that a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire could appear out of nothing. We sit under a sky full of stars and imagine being an eternal fire in the wilderness, a fire full of stars that might someday fly away up into the sky, like embers. 

Ariel Kates

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