Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Babylost Pesach

I approached Passover with minimal reflection this year, not the same kind of 'spring cleaning' of the mind I've done in past years. The last 7+ months have been consumed with reflection, and more importantly holidays are just hard -- this was supposed to be our first Pesach with Ezra, not without him. And so we scaled back, made plans to only attend one small seder with my family, where mercifully I was the youngest there.

I've talked before about the narcissism of grief, the way I seem to have no choice but to see everything through the lens of our loss these days. But I never before have focused on how much birth connected to death there is in the Passover story -- and so it caught me by surprise last night. First Pharoah enslaves the Jews and then orders that the Hebrew midwives kill all the boys who are born; fearing God they don't do it (and when Pharoah asks them why they say Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women: they are vigorous. Before the midwife can come to them, they have given birth). So Pharoah orders all the Egyptian people to help, and throw every first born Hebrew boy into the Nile. The Pharoah is evil personified -- imagine the Hebrews' grief at arbitrarily and cruelly losing every first born boy.

I don't have to imagine, I know.

Then there's Moses' mother, who after birthing her son saw how beautiful he was and hid him for three months (don't blame her!). So she creates a little boat for him out of a wicker basket and places him amongst the reeds of the Nile. Her sister waits and watches while the Pharoah's daughter comes down to the river and finds Moses; her sister offers to find a "Hebrew nurse" to be the child's wetnurse and thus Moses' mother is still able to be with her son.

When Moses grows up, God charges him and his brother Aaron with challenging Pharoah and persuading him to let the Hebrews go free. God tells Moses: Then you shall say to the Pharoah, 'Thus says the Lord: Israel is My first-born son. I have said to you, "let My son go, that he may worship Me," yet you refuse to let him go. Now I will slay your first-born son. The entire people of Israel are God's first-born son, so if Pharoah will not release them, God will kill Pharoah's first born.

A first born son is precious.

Pharoah does not listen to Moses and Aaron's pleas and so God begins to bring plagues upon the Egyptians to show his power: blood, frogs, lice, insects, pestilence, inflammation, hail, locusts, darkness...none of these convince Pharoah to release the Hebrew people from slavery. And so God deals a final blow:

In the middle of the night the Lord struck down all the first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharoah who sat on the throne to the first-born of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the first-born of the cattle. And Pharoah arose in the night, with all his courtiers and all the Egyptians -- because there was a loud cry in Egypt; for there was no house where there was not someone dead. He summoned Moses and Aaron in the night and said "Up, depart from among my people, you and the Israelites with you! Go, worship the Lord as you said! Take also your flocks and your herds, as you said, and begone! And may you bring a blessing upon me also! (Ex. 12:29-32)

This passage sends chills down my spine and a lump to my throat...for there was no house where there was not someone dead. I can imagine that loud cry in Egypt...it is my wailing for Ezra magnified by the thousands.

9 comments:

Paige said...

Thank you for this post Sarah. Our Seder felt like we were going through the motions. All I kept thinking was that I should've had a 3 week old in a Moses Basket, next to the table. Chills and wails, and silent sobs, for me too.

Hope's Mama said...

Thanks for sharing this Sarah. I am learning so much about your faith through your words. I am so sorry you have reached another one of these days without Ezra. Not at all how you'd imagined it last year.

Rach said...

Thank you Sarah, another 'first.' First seder without your Ezra. So sorry.
xxx

Dani819 said...

This part really got to me this year- thinking about the slaying of the first-born and how many of us are joining the collective wail. Amazing- the only plague I used to really pay attention to was "frogs."

Funsize said...

I've been thinking of the baby lost pharaohs and Egyptians, with this holiday coming. It's sad to know of the mother's infinite sadness, their wails, because we have wailed too. And while your wails (and ours as well) are silent now, I can still hear them.

(hugs)

erica said...

Thanks for this post, Sarah. This story makes me want to wail, too. Thinking of you.

Gal aka SuperMommy said...

Wow, Sarah. You tell the story like a rabbi... You know what's weird? I didn't even connect to this part of the story, which surprises me now. I think I just disconnected totally from the specifics, and even disconnected from much of the more symbolic aspects of slavery and freedom, too. Just wasn't feeling it - Passover is too loaded for me right now. I can imagine it would've felt even more loaded had I made the connection of babies lost in the story. Chills...

Lani said...

having to read the words "the slaying of the first born son" is the reason we did not partake in a sedar this year. i missed it, it was so sad for me. but i could not handle it. oh sarah, thinking of you 3 as always. xo

Samaria said...

I did not lose my first born son but I did lose my first born daughter and I was very sad this Seder. I was so paranoid of losing my first born son I let him sleep with me the night after the Seder :(