Fairytale and storytelling, has been a part of bedtime routine since way back in time. it enables our young ones to broaden their universe, imagine the impossible, transcend their current circumstances. Sure fairytales are often made of magic pixie dust, that is of a fictitious world, but there are elements in every story, that enable us to escape our own, even if it is just in spirit. Stephen Hawking passed away a couple of weeks ago, there are many lessons we can learn from him, the greatest of them not being his scientific findings, rather what he taught us through living in a body seemingly so limiting, yet possessing a mind and heart that were transcendental, he taught us that while our circumstance may be constraining, it is the inner dimension ( in Judaism we call it a soul/ a divine piece of G-d) that creates the reality you ultimately reside in. On Passover it is customary to use round matza, why is that? A circle represents a continuous loop, bound to repeat itself over and over, as a part of the Seder ceremony we break that circular matza in half, representing that we are powerful beings and capable of breaking any loop we find ourselves stuck in. That we are only bound by that which we haven’t broken free of. That we can be the architects of our future. Miriam is the architect of the Jewish people, she envisioned it, created a plan and ran with it. Despite the seemingly insurmountable obstacles she encountered along the way. The Jewish people were stuck in a loop of enslavement, and limitations, Miriam helped them break out of that.
When the Jewish people entered Egypt, they planted acacia trees, and they had a prophecy they held on to, that no matter how dark and limiting their existence in Egypt will seem, someday, they will be free, to bring light, values and kindness into the world. And when that day comes they will take those acacia trees and make tambourines out of them so they can sing and dance and praise G-d for the miracles that will take them out of the living hell they were experiencing. The Jewish people were in Egypt for 210 years, many of those years were spent in deep enslavement, and in unimaginable circumstances ( think holocaust like conditions, the descriptions we have in the Midrash, are so painful to read through) yet one generation shared this story with the next, mothers and fathers would tell their children bedtime stories and what seemed like fairy tales, “ my dear child” they would whisper, as they put their kids to sleep, “I know times are so painful right now, but do you see those trees out there ( pointing to the acacia trees planted all those years ago when the Jewish people first got into Egypt) one day we will be free people, not forced into slave labor, we will be able to act on our moral ethics and values with out fear, we will live in a world where we treat others with love compassion and kindness, we will be free! And when that day will come, my dear child, we will take those trees and make tambourines out of them and we will sing and dance and thank the almighty for all the miracles he will perform to set us free”
And times seemed to get even darker, and that belief and hope gave way by many to despair and fear, the Midrash teaches us that when our existence became so unbearable, i.e. our babies were slaughtered on a daily basis in front of our eyes, children forced to do unimaginable things, the men, they chucked up the story of trees to fairytale that may never come true. They let despair conquer their faith, not so the women, the Midrash tells us. Miriam who was the ultimate freedom worrier, the wonder women, of our history,
The fearless leader of the Jewish people as we exited Egypt, refused to give up hope. The Talmud tells us that it is in the merit of the righteous women that we have merited to exit Egypt ( if it was up to the men, we wouldn’t have made it out of there). Miriam knew what Stephen Hawking knew, that no matter how limiting your circumstances, you can be as free as you dare to be. Miriam and all the women she led, continued to tell these stories of freedom to the next generation, even though she was born into a reality that seemed so hopeless.
The Jewish women refused to give up hope, even when they seemed to be believers of fairytales. They brought the next generation into the world and the next one, knowing that they or their children may not be the ones who exit Egypt, but someone somehow will, because the message of light, love and values the Jewish people need to bring to the world, is one worth dreaming of, and fighting for no matter the dire reality.
The torah states that when the Red Sea split for the Jewish people and they crossed through it, they exited the other side and that immediately, Miriam and the women took out their tambourines and broke into song and dance praising God for the miracles he performed to set them free, the bedtime stories they, their parents and grandparents, were raised on, came true! The commentators, wonder, where did the tambourines come from? I mean the Jewish people left Egypt in such a haste, their bread didn’t have time to rise! Yet somehow the handy dandy tambourines, made it out with them? And why would slaves possess tambourines of all things?
I mean if you're leaving an exile you have been in as a people for 210 bitter years, and you are leaving in haste men, women and children, tambourines seem like a random artifact to grab hold of?
If you are a dreamer who believes that dreams do come true, if you have faith that despite the darkness of night dawn will break, that the soul of a human is right there, hiding beyond the surface, waiting to be ignited.
If you truly have faith the the impossible can be possible, then you prepare those tambourines, because you're not sure how you're getting out of here, but it will take a miracle, and you want to be ready to say thank you for the newly acquired salvation you have dreamt of for so long.
Miriam and the women she led, in preparation for the leap into freedom they hoped and prayed for, built wooden tambourines made of those trees planted all those years ago, that stood as a symbol of hope and faith. They took their crafted tambourines and led the Jewish people not only in song and dance, but they led our people into freedom and hope. It is those very fairytales that they stayed loyal to, that enabled them to transcend the constraint of their reality and leap into freedom. Incidentally these tambourines in modern Hebrew, are called Miriam’s drum!
It is our blessing and hope that we each tap into that inner Miriam with in us, and leap beyond that which is constraining us in our own personal lives and our collective lives. That we tap into the energy of Passover, which is symbolized by the energy of spring, to leap, Passover, transcend all natural growth process, and transform into a new reality.
Batsheva Gelbtuch, Co-Director
Jewish Women's Connection of Atlanta