A new pharaoh who did not know Yosef arose over Mitzryim. He said to his people, “Look, the Israelites are too numerous and too strong for us. We must deal cleverly with them now before their numbers increase even more and they join forces with our enemies and drive us from our own land.”
So they appointed taskmasters over us to crush our spirits with hard labor. We were forced to build the storage sites of Pithom and Ramses as supply centers for Pharaoh.
But the more they oppressed us, the more we increased.
They came to dread us.
They forced us to do labor designed to break our bodies.
They made our lives miserable with harsh work involving mortar and brick as well as all kinds of toil in the field.
Pharaoh summoned the head midwives of the Evreem to his court. That is the name they called us, Evreem: vagabonds and wayfarers.
My mother was one of the midwives. The people called her Shifra: Horn of Freedom Woman. She turned each birth into a celebration. Somehow she collected wine and bread, shells and beads, goat hair blankets, and baskets woven from the tall grass by the river. We would gather and rejoice in the new child and renew our hope.
Pharaoh could not sleep. On the nights the Israelite women gave birth he dreamt of grasshoppers, swarming insects, and frogs crawling over his face and hands. While the women groaned with labor he screamed his midnight fears into the darkness of Mitzryim.
He summoned my mother, Shifra, saying, “When you deliver a Hebrew infant, if it is a boy, smash its head on the birth stone; if it is a girl, let it live.”
My mother did not do as Pharaoh commanded.
One day they came for her and hanged her from a tree. I watched as they buried my mother’s body, and I planted a cedar twig over her grave. Every day I would visit her and weep. Because I came so often and cried so much the twig quickly grew into a tree.
One day a white dove nested in the tree, and I took it as a sign. Soon the bird ate from my hand and cooed a welcome when I came.
One evening under a full moon sky I embraced the tree and felt the warmth of my mother’s light rising, her spirit ascending, and the bird flew about us, cooing, and a voice spoke to me saying, “I am the Presence that sustained your mothers and fathers and promised them freedom. I am Shekhina, who will lead the people from darkness to light, from sorrow to joy, from slavery to redemption. From this time onward you shall be called Golden Cloud Woman, for you have seen the light of Shekhina. Let My light become a sign of hope among the people.”
My tears watered the tree once again, and I returned home.
From that time onward the people called me Yocheved for the golden cloud that surrounded me. It was a great sign of hope. The days of deliverance were at hand.
~ from the book Goddess: A Celebration in Art and Literature edited by Jalaja Bonheim
Header: Israel in Egypt by Sir Edward John Poynter c 1860