Pharoah awoke and walked to the area where he bathed. The daily ritual refreshed him, and the water was cleansing him for his priestly duties as commander of all Egypt. Lately, he had been troubled though, and his dreams had been perplexing. He could feel a shift coming and many were concerned with the Hebrews revolting, overpowering, and taking over the kingdom. He would make sure that did not happen. He dried himself and called for his servants who came immediately to anoint him with perfumed oil and dress him in royal robes and headdress. Pharoah wore the falcon proudly on his tunic as he walked to the temple adjacent to his royal gardens. He wondered about his upcoming meeting that day. He would be conversing with the magicians and astrologers. After honoring Horus, the god of the sky and protector of kingship, he tried to center himself. But Pharoah was anxious in his spirit. Five astrologers had gathered in his meeting room, along with three magicians and those he deemed as wise. They bowed before him as he rose from his seat.
“What have you found?”
The astrologers were fearful but spoke in truth.
“Pharoah, we have seen the star and the heavens proclaim that one who is a savior of the people you have enslaved will rescue them, and you Pharoah, will come to an end through water. Water that rushes over your armies and brings destruction”
Pharoah paced back and forth. His serpent staff in hand. What to do? His thoughts disturbed him. He was troubled inside his spirit and perplexed at the wisemen and astrologers’ words. But they had been right before.
“These people must be destroyed, or they will take over my kingdom!”
He looked towards his assistant, who was 2nd in command, “Hurry, issue a decree that all newborn Hebrew boys be drowned in the Nile River. We will put an end to their seed once and for all. Now, away from my presence!”
The astrologers tried to speak, but he would not listen.
“Away from me at once!”
Jochebed held her stomach and rubbed the child that lay hidden. She felt sure it was a son because the Holy One had given her a dream. The dream was vivid, and the child was well weaned and lovely. Light shined from his face and his right hand was a fiery flame. The dream had certainly been one to ponder since the decree had gone forth to kill all the Hebrew sons born by throwing them into the Nile. Jochebed was sick of the Nile and Egypt. Although the Nile River was beautiful and excellent for producing fruit and fertile land– for her people it was bricks and mortar and back breaking work with heavy taxing. She was waiting on the promises for her people. She had heard all the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and his son Joseph who rescued her people from the famine, but now her people were in bondage, and the men worked in the hot sun all day building for the Pharoah. She felt the baby kick hard and took a breath.
“Yes, little one, you are ready to come out, but it is not time. You must stay hidden as long as possible. Listen to your Ema.” Jochebed laughed to herself. “A little one that listens?” Ha!
Yocheved felt sure this child was chosen, but what could they do? She was wearing loose clothing and staying out of eyeshot as much as possible. She had told no one except her best friend Elizabeth and the midwives. Thankfully she did not grow as large as some of the women and could hide her pregnancy better than most, and she had Miriam, who was not a young woman yet, but mature for her years. Miriam would be helpful to her after the delivery. Aaron was growing up quickly too. He was learning the ways of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and she was proud of her family.
Jochebed felt a sharp pain again and reminisced over her own birth stories. When she married Amram, her mother and father told her that the Holy One spoke to them and said to name her Yocheved before she was born. Her name meant the Holy One’s Seed. This had been weighing on her as there had been whispers among her people that the heavens were revealing one who would free her people from slavery, and the grips of Egypt. Could I be carrying that child? She had thought of her name and mostly just assumed every one of her children was Yahweh’s seed because she gave her children to Him when they were born, but now she pondered with wonder. Her husband had told her, “Jochebed, I feel more and more certain the child in your womb is anointed to do something so great and so difficult, the adversaries will try and take his life. We must protect him. He is to be our main concern.”
Jochebed was six months pregnant and unsure how much longer she could conceal her pregnancy. She wondered why she felt so strongly that her children were leaders that would change the lives of her people. It’s silly she thought to herself. All mothers probably feel this way.
“Miriam, can you fetch me some rushes, palm leaves, and grasses. We must start making a bed for your brother, and it needs to be pitched and sturdy.
“Ema, how do you know it’s a brother? I was hoping for a baby sister, but brothers are nice.”
“Miriam, I just know. The Holy One has spoken to me. This child has a special calling but so do you, Miriam, and you will make beautiful music through song one day, and all the generations to come will sing the song of Miriam.”
Miriam held the words of her mother in her heart and pondered them. Miriam had been the first to lay her hand on her mother’s belly and whisper, “This child will save our people from bondage.” Her mother had felt the presence of the Holy One, and the baby in her womb had leaped. It was a moment Miriam would never forget.
“Oh, Ema, you make too much of me. May it be so as you have said, Ema. I will go collect the reeds as you wish.”
Miriam’s dark raven hair and lovely eyes sparkled at her mother.
“Don’t do too much, Ema. I will take Aaron with me. Now, go rest.”
“I am so blessed to have you for a daughter, Miriam.” Jochebed squeezed her hand as she shooed Aaron out the door with his sister.
“Amram, it’s coming!” Wake up, Abba. Yocheved shook her husband, who was snoring rather loudly.
“Quickly, light the candles and the oil lamp, Abba.”
Amram walked to the water pitcher and splashed some in his face before lighting the room.
“Are you sure, Ema?” This seems relatively early, and your belly is not large like with Aaron.”
“Abba, I know these things.”
Yocheved sucked in air and grimaced from the sharp contractions pulsing through her back.
“Hold on, little one, she whispered.”
Abba, go wake Miriam, get the towels, and heat some water. She will need a knife and some twine. Now, go do as I say.” Amram bent over his lovely wife. Her face was tan, and her skin was so smooth to the touch of his hand. He looked into her beautiful brown eyes, touched her cheek with his hand, and then kissed her forehead.
“Ema, we will trust the Holy One. He will protect us.”
Amram tapped his daughter on the arm and made a shushing sound.
“Shhh, tihiyi besheket bevakasha.”
Miriam opened her eyes and tried to focus, but it was dark, and the stillness of the night was made aware to her. Although she was almost 10 years old, she still was not comfortable with the darkness.
“What is wrong, Papa?”
“Your Ema is in labor, and she needs your help. Now get dressed and prepared as we have been rehearsing for this moment. You will do fine, now go to Shifra and Puah, and be as quick as possible. Remember to walk softly.”
“Yes, Abba. I will go now.”
Miriam rubbed her eyes and lit a candle. She threw on a dark shawl, opened the door to their home, and walked briskly to Puah’s door, and tapped on it softly. The woman was startled but could make out Miriam’s face by the candlelight through the window.
“It’s time, Miriam whispered.”
“I’ll go wake Shifra, Miriam. Go back home and be with your mother.”
“Yes, Puah, I will. Please hurry. I’m scared. I think it is too early for the baby, and I’ve only seen my brother’s birth, and I was younger then.”
“It will be fine,” Puah said with great faith. “Now run along, hurry.”
Miriam hurried in the darkness back home, her shawl covering her, and her candle, as she followed the light step by step until she reached her house.
“It is done, Papa. They are coming. How is Ema?”
“Miriam, she is having labor pains closer together now. Go sit with her, please.” Amram pulled on his beard, a nervous habit he had acquired of late.
Miriam walked into the room quietly. Droplets of sweat were pouring down her mother’s forehead. Her hair was matted and stuck to her face.
“Oh, Ema,” Miriam said, as she wrung out a cool cloth and laid it on her head.
“What can I do, Ema?”
Yocheved took a deep breath through her nostrils and exhaled slowly.
“Thank you, Miriam,” she whispered. “Please pray for the baby and our family. You are a treasure to your Ema.”
Jochebed reached for her daughter’s hand and held it, but suddenly the next contraction began to overtake her. She did not realize she had a death grip on poor Miriam.
“Ema!” Jochebed released her hand and clenched her teeth together.
“Breath in and out, Ema. It’s okay.”
Jochebed wished she believed her words, but she worried that their voices would awaken others, and they might possibly hear her screams or, worse, the cries of her newborn taking his first breath.
About that time, she heard more voices. Puah and Shifra had arrived.
“We’ve got this, Miriam, but we would love for you to stay and help?”
“Of course, I want to be here with my Ema and see the baby, said Miriam delightfully. And you should know the labor pains are getting harder.”
The midwives inspected Jochebed. After a few whispers they spoke in unison.
“Come, Yocheved, we need to get you on the birthing stones.”
The stones were stacked in the floor now and raised Yocheved to more of a squatting position.
“Now when the next contraction comes, Yocheved, you know what to do, push and push hard.
Yocheved was almost passing out from the pain. Her daughter kept wiping her brow tenderly, and she was thankful for the midwives. She tried to smile as the pain eased.
“Thank you, Puah and Shifra. You are dear to me.”
“As you are to us,” said Shifra, taking her hand.
“May the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob be with you and protect you and this child,” said Puah, brushing Yocheved’s hair from her eyes.
Another contraction was coming harder than before, and Yocheved bit down on her lip and pushed with much strength.
“The baby is crowning, said Shifra,” who was in a kneeling position. Keep pushing Yocheved.”
Yes, keep going, Ema!,” said Miriam.
Yocheved felt another wave of pain shoot through her spine and lower back and forgot to breathe. She gritted her teeth and felt the baby coming as the midwives were bringing him forth. He opened his mouth and let out a cry into the darkness. Suddenly the room lit up, and the glory of Adonai filled the room. Amram entered holding Aaron’s hand, and he and Miriam and the midwives fell silent. The premature babe was resting on Yocheved’s chest covered in a towel. Yocheved held her son as the women cleaned him up and cut the cord.
“He is so beautiful and yet so tiny,” Miriam said.
“He looks as if I could fit him in my hand,” said Amram, holding his hands up and grinning from ear to ear.
“No Egyptian will throw my seed in the Nile. The God of my fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will protect my seed!”
“May it be so, Abba,” said Yocheved in a weakened voice. Soon they all gathered around the bed, each looking upon the baby boy with such love and joy.
“How will we keep such a beautiful gift hidden, thought Amram. “Oh, Great and Mighty One, Creator of All, thank you for this precious life. May he save his people from this harsh bondage of Egypt. May he bring us up out of here!”
I leave you with a lovely Poem spoken over a child at birth:
Welcome, welcome to this breathtaking world. We have been waiting for you. Waiting to see your beautiful face, to hear the sound of your cry, to kiss you, hold you, rock you. You are the fruit of our love, of our hearts, of our souls.
Amen. (Rabbi Naomi Levy).
Sources: all name definitions taken from Abarim Publications.
That Moses was born three months early is a rabbinical story found in several teachings.