Miriam: Another Passover Story
It’s almost Passover, and one of my favorite characters in the Passover Story is Miriam, Moses’ sister, who took care of her famous brother, danced at the Red Sea and eventually contracted leprosy as *punishment* for preaching to the people. When I was a kid in Sunday School, I always thought Miriam got a raw deal, a vivid example of the ancient monotheistic patriarchy asserting its brutal subjugation of women and free expression. But who was I to question the Bible? Then, one morning, many years ago, I woke up with a voice in my head. It was the voice of Miriam (so it said), and this is what she told me:
I am Miriam, daughter of the bullrushes, sister-mother of Moses, the man of Yahweh, God of the desert wind. With God in his mouth, my brother-son Moses taught the people to find their way through the desert, to their home, to their freedom, to themselves. With God in his mouth, Moses walked on the mountaintops with the clouds.
I wanted to have God in my mouth.
I was a dancer, a woman of many skirts and tambourines. When I danced, the women could not help but join in my frenzy. When I danced, my skirts swirled the dust of the desert into the eyes of men and made them blind. I danced as the waters of the Red Sea rushed over the armies of my enemies, freeing my people and myself. And as I danced, I could hear God singing in my mouth.
When I awakened the next morning covered with sand, I could feel God filling up the empty spaces in my heart, my legs, my mouth. When God in my mouth started to sing, I danced. And the women of Israel danced with me, clapping and kicking up sand.
Then God stopped singing and began to speak. I spoke to the women of Israel, to the desert, to the mountains, to the rocks, to the sun and the wind. I spoke with God in my mouth.
The women were frightened. “Only one among us has God in his mouth,” they whispered, “and that is Moses!” But they listened to me, and they knew that my mouth was also a vessel for God’s tongue.
Still, they were frightened. They told their husbands. Their husbands laughed. “What? A woman thinks she has God in her mouth? She must have sand between her ears.” They laughed, but still they found Moses and told him. Moses listened and was silent.
Moses found me, his sister-mother Miriam, daughter of the bullrushes, walking on the mountaintops with the clouds…
“Miriam!” Moses shouted. “What’s all this business about you and God?”
I looked at my brother-son Moses and opened my mouth, and God’s tongue whipped out like a snake and rattled in Moses’ ears. And he knew that my voice was the voice of Yahweh.
“Miriam!” Moses shouted, “That is not the voice of Yahweh. That is the Devil in your mouth. You must hurl him out.”
I listened to the orders of my brother-son Moses, and I replied with the tongue of the Lord, “No, I must not.”
“Miriam!” Moses shouted, “You must hurl him out! You are not a prophet. You are not a general. You are a woman. God does not speak through you. God speaks through me. You have the Devil in your mouth. If you do not hurl him out, you will become infected with a terrible disease. You will be cast out from the camp. And you will never find your way home.”
I could not hurl the voice out of my mouth. It was the voice of God. The women knew that, and they were frightened. The men knew that, and they laughed. Moses knew that, and he was angry. I knew that, and I was glad.
But my brother-son’s curse was a powerful one, for he too held God in his mouth. It pierced my soul to its center of sorrow. And the sorrow of my soul flowed through my body and appeared on my skin in white flakes.
When I entered the camp, the people ran from me. “Leper!” they cried, “Leper! Stay away! The women were frightened. The men laughed. Moses listened and was silent. He let the people cast me out of the camp; a leper, unfit to dwell among people, unfit to find my way home.
I wept with self-pity in the hot dust of the desert. I scratched at the scales of my flesh. I cursed the day that the dance had whirled the song of God into my mouth. I cursed the day I had refused to hurl it out. I saw the foolish arrogance of my spirit. How could I, a mere woman, a dancer, hold the King of the Universe in my mouth? How could I hope to find my way home? And now, the arrogance of my spirit had flowed through my body and appeared on my skin in white flakes…
I dragged my wretched body up to the top of the mountain and watched the people decamp on their way to a home where I would never rest.
And I let out a wail of sorrow. I wailed for myself, and the injustice of being left behind. I wailed for Moses. for he too would never enter the Promised Land. I wailed for the people who would be killed before they arrived. I wailed for the people who would kill to get there, and then keep killing just to stay. I wailed for the people whose expectations would be disappointed once they got there. I wailed for the people whose mothers and fathers had perished in the Land of Oppression. I wailed for the people whose sons and daughter would never understand the meaning of their journeys, for the God in their mouths which might never be released.
The wail was the voice of God in my mouth. I heard it, and I was glad. I knew that I had found my way home to this mountaintop. I clapped my hands and danced among the clouds with God singing in my mouth.