A New Midrash for Ki tisa
The whispers have been flying for days.
They buzz and bite like the flies that tormented the Egyptians.
Moses has been gone too long.
Some say that he’s dead.
Some say that he abandoned us and ran back to Egypt.
Some say that God killed him.
Some say that he fell on his way back to us and is wasting away because no one is allowed to step foot on the mountain.
After the whispers have flown... the wailing begins.
The mountain is surrounded by thunder, and it is difficult to hear the sound of a single man crying in the night.
But then the wailing grows and grows and grows
Until it is inescapable, until it is everywhere, until it is so loud that it is impossible to hear your partner speak to you, until it is impossible to hear yourself think.
Silence is only a memory… something that used to exist.
Our world shrinks until it is only the small patch of desert...
where we wait and wait and wait
This new world was created in different stages than Eve’s and Adam’s:
First we had worry, then we had fear, and now we have terror.
We don’t sleep.
We can’t eat.
We watch. We wait. We whisper. We worry. And we wail.
We try to find footing in this new world but each day brings only more tension and terror.
I’ve been watching the people stretch...
Their spirits pulling tight like a bow.
Their whispers skitter across my skin…
their wails hollow out my bones.
I look to the mountain.
Moses has been gone for too long.
What if he’s dead?
What if he abandoned us and ran back to Egypt?
What if God killed him?
What if he fell on his way back to us and is wasting away because we’re not allowed to step foot on the mountain.
Our people’s eyes are empty...
They look as if they belong in the tombs of Egypt…
They watch me hungrily as if expecting for me to transform into the leader that we are waiting for.
I stand at the foot of the mountain and stare at its summit.
Come back, Moses.
Come back brother.
I cannot do this alone.
I no longer sleep.
My eyes grow crusty and dry because every hour is spent standing and watching and hoping for a glimpse of my brother’s form amidst the chaos of the clouds.
During my vigil, I am startled by an unexpected sound.
What is that?
Is it a voice inside my head?
Is it God’s voice?
Is it Moses?
It tells me that the people cannot continue in this state.
It tells me to do something… to do anything… to break the debilitating tension in our camp.
But what? What tools do I have access to?
Suddenly the clouds around the mountain flash, and the light bounces off my simple golden ring.
“I hear you,” I think. “I understand.”
Even though my body sways and trembles with exhaustion, I manage to walk to the people.
They stand with faces carved out by desperation, grief, and fear.
“It’s alright,” I tell them. “I know what to do.”
I offer a prayer of gratitude for Jethro as I run.
Had I not been a shepherd for those many years
Had I not had to chase so many sheep up and down the desert mountains,
I would have fallen and our story would have ended in a rain of fire...
because if I fall, if I fail, then nothing stands between God’s anger and this burdensome people.
The tablets that God gave me hang in a wrap that I’ve slung over my shoulders.
As I run, they beat a rhythm across my back,
A terrible percussion that accompanies the endless loop of haunting questions that are running through my mind.
Where is Aaron?
Is he dead?
Has he abandoned us and run back to Egypt?
Has someone killed him?
Has he fallen somewhere in the desert and is wasting away because I am not there to search for him?
I know that he would not have allowed the people to do this terrible thing.
If Aaron still lived, he would have stopped them from making the golden idol that God hates so much.
All they had to do was wait!
I was the one who had to climb a mountain to speak to God!
If only I had been chosen to lead a more faithful people!
I can’t even trust them to sit… I can’t trust them at all!
And without trust, how could we ever make it to the land that God has promised us.
My breath is coming fast and hot, burning my nostrils as it escapes from my body.
I struggle down an almost sheer stretch of the mountain’s face, cutting the palm of my hand, and wiping the blood on my cloak.
There is no time to stop and see to the wound.
Finally, finally, I see the twist of the path that means that I am almost there.
My heart is beating so hard that I think I might pass out.
My mind is weighed down by fear for Aaron.
My gut twists as I imagine what they’ve done to him
I hurry down the path, running at a reckless speed,
Chest heaving, legs pumping,
Promising myself that I will avenge the brother that I’ve only just found.
I gather the tablets to my chest and try to push myself to be faster
As I stumble around the last corner, my eyes are already searching the faces of the gathered crowd...
Where is my brother? Where is Aaron?
When I was a child, I watched as the women of my family, of my community, were forced to walk to the Nile and throw their infants into the churning depths.
Every single one of their faces is etched onto my soul.
I will always remember the way they looked as they clutched their children to their chests,
I will always remember how their shoulders drooped with the grief that was waiting to explode out of them,
I will always remember how their eyes darted around with the desperate hope that somehow, something would happen and that their baby would be spared.
That same mix of premature grief and unreasonable hope, that is what I see when my brother finally, FINALLY appears at the foot of the mountain.
I watch as his shoulders droops and his eyes dart,
And I watch as his gaze stops on Aaron who is standing amongst our people- steps away from the idol that he thinks God wants.
I try to move towards Moses, remembering the way my mother had always gone quickly to the women whose devastation threatened to consume them.
But I am not fast enough.
Someone in the crowd catches sight of Moses, and then the world is awash in whispers.
He didn’t abandon us!
God didn’t kill him!
He made his way back to us safely!
After the whispers, comes the wailing, as weeks of worry, and fear, and tension explode out of our people.
I try to follow the waves of sound as I had once followed Moses as he floated down the river- my baby brother navigating the dangers that had claimed so many of our people’s children.
But this time, I am not fast enough, because without warning the sound is no longer a river, it is a flood, and so I climb on top of a wagon just to keep from drowning.
From this vantage point, I am able to see clearly that Moses has continued to stare at Aaron, oblivious to the cacophony, oblivious to his people...
I watch as Moses’s face cycles through fear, then joy, then confusion, then disbelief, then anger, then fury…
All the while, his gaze never wavers from our brother.
I turn to Aaron and see that his eyes are also locked on Moses.
I watch as Aaron’s face tells a different story.
First I see joy, then pride, then confusion, then fear, and then shame.
I watch as his eyes break away from the terrible power that seems to gather around Moses.
I watch as he is transformed into the women standing by the river, crumpling as any hope of God’s presence flees from them... and only devastation remains.
I realize then that the sound has changed….
And I look around frantically, trying to figure out what is different.
Is this silence? It’s been so long that I can’t be sure.
Frantically, I whip around, looking at the faces of our people and realizing that there is no more whispering… no more wailing… only a terrible, terrible stillness in the air.
Goosebumps erupt all over my body as I follow the gazes of our people and turn back to the mountain.
Moses stands bathed in an otherworldly light, holding tablets of stone high in the air as if they weigh nothing at all.
His body shakes, but it is with power rather than weakness.
I hold my breath, and I hope.
Maybe this means that we’ve done it. Maybe we survived.
Maybe God loves us. Maybe Moses will stay.
Maybe the wailing will cease.
Maybe the whispers will stop.
I watch as the air around Moses seems to burn, as his eyes sweep over the people, as his arms stretch, lifting the tablets even higher.
The people lean closer, gathering themselves to release a thundering cheer.
And then Moses’ eyes lock on Aaron, and staring at our brother,
he lets loose a giant roar and throws God’s tablets onto the ground.
They shatter into thousands of pieces… pieces that are so small that it’s almost hard to remember that they used to be something whole.
And then Moses collapses, spreading his body on top of the fragments of stone, and for a moment the sound of a single man wailing fills the entire world.
But then the people begin to whisper, and then they begin to wail.
Aaron turns to me, once again hollowed out and devastated, and for an eternity, we stand as we are, two tiny islands, watching as our new world is once again flooded and shaped by the crashing waves of heartache and fear.