Moses, some say, had three mothers: Yocheved, who gave birth to him, raised him for three months, and placed him in the ark on the river; Batyah, Pharaoh's daughter, who drew him out of the river and raised him as her son; and the river Nile herself, whose life-giving waters defied Pharaoh's decree to “throw all the Israelite sons into the river,” and who was the bond between Yocheved and Batyah. In these Midrashic Monologues, we imagine the whispered thoughts of two of Moses’ mothers at the moments when they were linked together- releasing, protecting, and receiving the child that they loved.
I seek out protection for my baby.
I pray that this fragile craft carries him safely as I did for so many months.
I wish that my arms were enough to keep him safe from all the pain in this world.
I wrap him in the blanket that I wove in anticipation of his arrival. His father, Amram, saved scraps of material that he found, gathering them as he walked and then presenting me with his collection at the end of each day. We smiled as we worked together to ensure that our child would be warm and safe.
Amram and I waited for our baby’s birth with both fear and joy.
We prayed that our God would have driven away the threat of Pharaoh’s decree before our child arrived, and, when I brought him into this world, our happiness and our hope were reflected in the bright light that shone from his face. (Sotah 12a)
But we do not live in a world of joy, and darkness crept into our tent, obscuring our visions of our child’s future.
And so I bring my son to the river.
I have often wondered why Pharaoh chose the river as the tool with which to inflict his punishment, as the place where we would destroy our children.
Perhaps he did not realize that the river is a mother too.
After all, she is governed by the moon just as we are.
She gives life, creating it from what is within her.
The river is the place where we women gather, where we share our truths as we wash ourselves and our possessions.
The river is the keeper of secrets, the cleanser of hearts. She is powerful beyond measure.
To her I bring my precious child.
I have wrapped him in the blanket that we made for him.
I try to comfort him, weaving stories of the one who will find him, the one who will raise and protect him.
If I close my eyes, I can imagine them and can feel the love that they will offer my son.
I remember the bright light that filled our lives at the moment of his birth.
I pray that my child will brighten this future parent’s world as well.
I stand in the water, watching as he floats from me, feeling fearful, feeling hopeful.
I speak to you now, sweet river, as one mother to another,
“Nurturing waters, protect my child and carry him to safety.
Bring him to his new life just as I brought him to this one.”
I seek out separation from my father.
This fragile space and time that I create for myself allows only the slightest protection from the ugliness of our world. But, even so, it is precious.
The young girl who is my attendant hands me a sheet of fine linen, and I wrap myself in the smooth, cool material.
I turn to her, offering her my thanks. She looks startled but happy, and we smile together as we walk to the river to bathe.
When I think of the world that I live in, the world that my father’s actions have shaped, I fear that this life is so fragile that even the smallest ripple could cause it to shatter.
I pray that someday joy will fill the world, driving away this choking darkness.
What a feeling that would be! Walking in a world of light and hope!
I wade into the river, dipping my head under its surface.
I wonder why I do not come more often as this place washes away my worries.
Soon I am laughing, splashing as I did when I was only a child.
I float on my back, lost in thought, safe in the water.
My mother used to bring me with her when she came to the river.
She taught me that these waters are the mother of all life.
We would splash and play, and she would tell me that I could always share my secrets with the river.
I remember watching as the water washed away the kohl that darkened my mother’s eyes, revealing her true face.
The river has always been a magical place.
I sigh, knowing that it is past time for me to leave the sanctuary of the river and to go back to the court of my father.
As I return to the bank, I offer gratitude to the river for this moment of rejuvenation, and then, as if in response to my thoughts, I hear the cry of a child.
It is such a small sound, but to my ears, it is as loud as the horns that accompany the arrival of a visiting king.
I name him for the river that brought him to me, and I bring him with me every time I return to the water. (Exodus 2:10)
When we wade into the river together, I tell him of his mothers.
I weave stories of the mother who brought him into this world.
I immerse him in the mother who guarded him on his journey to me.
And I wrap him in the joy and the light that I have felt since the moment I saw him floating toward me, the moment when the river made a mother out of me.