The ceremony that gave Aaron and his sons the responsibilities and power of the priesthood required each man to wear an elaborate garment. In this #MidrashicMonologue, we join Miriam, the sister of Aaron and Moses, as she sits with her mother (Yocheved), sister-in-law (Elisheva), and cousins (Nepheg and Elzaphan), as they prepare the priests’ decorative clothing. We explore what Miriam, who is so often described as exuberant and confident, might have been thinking as she helped to prepare her brother and nephews for their ordination.
It is important to note that this midrash seeks to capture the emotions of a particular moment of Miriam’s life rather than characterize her overall outlook or the powerful legacy that she left for the generations that followed her.
It feels as if I have been sitting in this tent for an eternity. Early this morning, my cousins, Nepheg and Elzaphan, who are both renowned for their weaving, presented my mother, sister-in-law, and me with the beautiful fabric that they made for the priestly garments. After we had praised each man for his skill, we sat down together to begin the next phase of preparation. As the hours passed, we worked in near silence, so intent on finishing the robes that we were unwilling to distract ourselves or one another with conversation.
None of us knows which Kohen (priest) will wear the robe that we are making, and no two robes are exactly alike. I wonder if each garment will reflect not only the sensibility but also the feelings of its maker.
I glance at Elzaphan and Nepheg who both smile joyfully as their needles pass through the cloth that they created. Every once in a while, one will lift up his work to show the other a stitch or a design that he is particularly proud of. There is a polish to their work that speaks to their artistry and skill, and I imagine that the priests who are gifted with my cousins' robes will feel like living works of art.
My mother’s face contains both pride and worry. I imagine that she adds a silent prayer to each of her stitches- asking God to keep her son and her grandsons safe and to allow them to remain with her and our family. Whichever man wears the robe that Yocheved makes will carry on his shoulders the expectations of the generations that have come before him. I wonder if that weight will feel heavy or comforting or both.
Like my cousins, Elisheva’s smile fills her face, but her joy is not in the work that she is doing now but in the work that she has already done. She is the wife and the mother- truly the creator- of the high priests of Israel. Every once in a while, she sighs and shakes her head in disbelief- wondering aloud, “How did I arrive at this remarkable moment?” Elisheva’s stitches are artistic and graceful. They are a record of her cherished memories of watching her sons grow from boys into men. Whoever wears the robe that she is making will be engulfed in the overflowing love that she has for each of the men in her life.
I worry for the one who will wear the robe that I am working on.
My stitches reflect emotions that are far less favorable or comforting than those of my companions. Certainly, my work weaves in the pride that I feel for these men whom I love and have protected for so long. Nevertheless, I worry that my stitches also carry with them my sorrow, my frustration, and my anger.
What else could I have done to earn a place on God’s mountain?
I was a prophet before I was a woman. When I was just a small girl, I was the one who convinced my parents to overcome their fears and to have another child- the child who would go on to redeem our people from slavery!
I was the protector who watched over this new baby as he floated out from the arms of his first mother and into the arms of his next.
I was the dancer and songstress who led our people as we celebrated our freedom. In that moment, after we had crossed the Red Sea, Moses and Aaron were too worried, too distracted, to leap and shout with joy. If it had been left to my brothers, we would have missed the opportunity to embrace our freedom. If I had not been there, that remarkable moment would have faded away, overshadowed by fears for the future and grief for the past.
But, now this prophet and protector, dancer and songstress has become a seamstress. I am nothing more and nothing less than the one who makes others’ success possible.
I am a prophet, and yet somehow my responsibility in this moment of incredible divinity is to sit in a shadowy tent and sew decorations onto the others’ garments.
Every pomegranate that I embroider feels like a lead weight that I must carry. Every bell that I attach sounds like a voice taunting me as I chafe at the boundaries that I have been given.
I am proud of my relatives, and tomorrow, I will watch as my brother and my nephews are ordained in front of our people, and I will stand tall, say nothing, and let them enjoy their moment of transcendence.
But, I know without a doubt that every time these priestly robes appear before us, they will carry with them the record of my disappointment, my frustration, and my anger.
My stitches will always tell the story of a prophet- silenced, a dancer- stilled.
They will forever speak of someone who could have been so much more if only she had been given the chance.