Pharaoh’s Cousin

Exodus: Bo

Pharaoh’s Cousin

I hate him, Pirit thought as she lay in bed. He will destroy us all.

Pirit tossed and turned. There was no possibility she could relax. She feared the darkness would not lift, like in the last plague. She was still traumatized by that paralyzing endless night. She would forever curse the unreliable sun, yet pray for its return.

Cousin Pharaoh has doomed Egypt, Pirit fitfully mused. And Moses has ever delivered on his word.

“The firstborns shall die”, Moses had said in his deep and authoritative voice. The chill she had received from the announcement had struck her as if her firstborn, Rabret, had been executed on the spot.

Oh, sweet Rabret, Pirit moaned to herself. Only fifteen years old. Just now entering manhood. Small tears streamed down Pirit’s face at the thought of losing him.

There was a tense quiet throughout the Egyptian night, as if the entire country was expectantly holding its breath. Word had spread like wildfire of Moses’ latest declaration. This tenth plague promised to be the worst by far and to touch every home – how could it not? Poor and wealthy alike would suffer. Pirit’s mind churned restlessly. Only the childless would be spared the pain of losing a child they never had.

Yet Pharaoh still refuses to let the Israelites go! Pirit screamed in her head. He is mad! But what can we do?

Then it started. Pirit heard a soft moaning from far away. She stayed in bed trying to ignore it – hoping it would go away. Then the moaning got louder – and closer. But it was not really a moan. It was a cry – a cry of bitterness, and sorrow, and anguish. And the cry multiplied and got louder. Pirit thought it was like a living thing, the cry. Growing in strength and form and power. Before she knew it, the cry was overwhelming. It was all around her. It seemed as if every stitch of the Egyptian fabric was crying in excruciating pain. She could not hold back longer.

Pirit unclenched her tightly closed eyes and rose from her bed. She walked, as if to her own execution, to Rabret’s room. The room was abnormally quiet amidst the communal screaming of Egypt. Perhaps he is just sleeping peacefully, Pirit prayed. But there was no movement. No breathing sounds. No gentle rising and falling of his young chest. No outward sign of life. Very gently, Pirit touched Rabret’s shoulder. It was cold in the warm Egyptian night.

“Rabret,” Pirit shook him. “Please wake up my darling.”

But there was no answer. Losing hope Pirit pulled on Rabret’s shoulder to see his face.

She stepped back, holding her hands to her face, with a thick stream of hot tears rolling down her cheeks. Rabret’s face was a frozen, dead, grimace of pain. The only way to interpret it is that his life had been cut short urgently, powerfully and violently. He was an empty husk now.

Pirit rushed back to embrace her lifeless son. Her firstborn. Her Rabret. “Oh no. Not my sweet Rabret. Oh, no.” And then Pirit started to wail. A keen, piercing, heartbroken cry that joined the voices of the rest of Egypt in a discordant symphony of pain.

* * *

This madness has gone on far enough. I do not care if it is treason or blasphemy, Pirit thought as she stomped her way to her cousin’s palace. She was not alone. Other nobles, royals and advisors were making their way, teary-eyed to Pharaoh’s audience chamber.

“My son. My heir,” Pharaoh was murmuring, holding the Prince’s scepter loosely in his hand.

Pharaoh was sitting, bent over on his throne, surrounded by a growing, unmoving audience. Pirit pushed through the group and without announcement or introduction, addressed Pharaoh.

“How many more children do we need to sacrifice?” Pirit demanded. “How many more!?”

“What can we do?” Pharaoh asked no one in particular.

“Let the Israelites go!” Pirit shouted.

“That is what they want,” Pharaoh said weakly, still looking at the boy’s scepter. “But it is too late now. All is lost.”

Pirit approached the throne, uninvited, to the quiet gasps of those around.

“Cousin,” Pirit addressed Pharaoh. “All will be lost if you do nothing. Let them go as you should have done long ago. How much more must Egypt pay for their enslavement? Who knows what the next plague will bring? Please cousin, for the sake of my other children, your other children – for what still remains of Egypt. You must release them – now. Listen to the screams! They are getting louder!!”

“I feel like a puppet in the Hebrew god’s hands,” Pharaoh started clenching his teeth. “Every time I have thought to release them I feel a compulsion to keep them enslaved.”

“Then by Ra. No, not Ra,” Pirit looked at the large statue of the god, her lip curling in a sneer, “by the Hebrew god, who has proven himself to be all powerful and has reduced Ra to a meaningless sculpture – I swear by the Hebrew god,” Pirit knelt down and grasped firmly on to both of Pharaoh’s ankles, amidst further gasps of the audience, “I shall not leave you until you go and free the Israelites.”

Pharaoh looked down at his cousin, shocked into awareness by her bold and daring violation of his holy person. He recognized Pirit’s ancient gesture. It was the physical vow of a supplicant, not to let go of the provider, until their wish was granted, or they were killed for the mere impropriety.

However, a murmur started in the audience chamber, with the backdrop of the wailing growing stronger. “Pirit is right,” Pharaoh heard. “He must let the Hebrews go.” Another voice added. “We are lost.”

“Pharaoh has doomed us.”

“What can we do?”

“He must let the Hebrews go.”

“Let the Hebrews go.”

‘Yes. Let the Hebrews go.”

“Let the Hebrews go,” someone said as a chant, with a wailing counterpoint.

“Let the Hebrews go,” the chant was picked up.

“Let the Hebrews go,” the entire room said.

“Let the Hebrews go!” reverberated throughout the palace.

* * *

Pharaoh ran out of his palace, the Prince’s scepter still in hand, followed by a large entourage led by Pirit.

Pharaoh walked unsteadily, looking from doorway to doorway for signs of the home of Moses or Aaron. They were in the Hebrew quarter of his city, where he knew Moses and Aaron had taken up temporary residence.

“Where is Moses?” Pharaoh cried. “Where is Aaron?”

But there was no answer.

“Hebrews!” Pharaoh called out. “Please help me! Where are Moses and Aaron!?”

Out of breath, leaning on the doorframe of a Hebrew home, Pharaoh was surprised to feel a sticky substance on his hands. He looked at his hands. To his horror, they were full of blood.

“Moses! Aaron!” Pharaoh screamed, above the sound of the general wailing, which was noticeably quieter in the Hebrew quarter.

“I am sorry! I was wrong!” Pharaoh continued. “You and your people may go! Please! Go!”

“I am here Pharaoh,” Moses appeared in one of the doorways. Aaron was beside him and they were followed by other Hebrew elders.

“Oh Moses,” Pharaoh got down on his knees. The rest of the entourage followed suit. “Go, go. Please!

“I was wrong. Go. Take everyone that you wanted to take. Women, children, animals – all the animals. Take everyone and get out quickly. Now. Please. Leave. Leave before we are all destroyed.”

Moses turned to the Hebrew elders and directed them to go ahead and give word. They were all dressed for travel, carrying satchels and fully laden bags, as if they had been expecting to be released.

Wordlessly, Moses turned to leave.

“Moses, my Lord,” Pirit pleaded. “Is this the end? Will this end the deaths and the destruction in Egypt?”

Moses looked at Pirit with a solemn, sad face. “That will depend on you,” he pointed at all of them, “you and the will of Pharaoh,” he pointed at Pharaoh.

Pirit shivered, if it is up to us and Pharaoh, then we are truly doomed.

And without a further word, Moses turned his back on the Egyptians, never to see his birthplace, the land of the Hebrew oppressors again.

* * * * * *

Sources:

Exodus Chapter 11

4 And Moses said: ‘Thus saith the Lord: About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt; 5 and all the first-born in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first-born of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the first-born of the maid-servant that is behind the mill; and all the first-born of cattle. 6 And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there hath been none like it, nor shall be like it any more. 7 But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog whet his tongue, against man or beast; that ye may know how that the Lord doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel. 8 And all these thy servants shall come down unto me, and bow down unto me, saying: Get thee out, and all the people that follow thee; and after that I will go out.’ And he went out from Pharaoh in hot anger. {S} 9 And the Lord said unto Moses: ‘Pharaoh will not hearken unto you; that My wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.’ 10 And Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh; and the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the children of Israel go out of his land.

Exodus Chapter 12

5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year; ye shall take it from the sheep, or from the goats; 6 and ye shall keep it unto the fourteenth day of the same month; and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at dusk. 7 And they shall take of the blood, and put it on the two side-posts and on the lintel, upon the houses wherein they shall eat it. 8 And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; with bitter herbs they shall eat it. 9 Eat not of it raw, nor sodden at all with water, but roast with fire; its head with its legs and with the inwards thereof. 10 And ye shall let nothing of it remain until the morning; but that which remaineth of it until the morning ye shall burn with fire. 11 And thus shall ye eat it: with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste–it is the Lord’s passover. 12 For I will go through the land of Egypt in that night, and will smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. 13 And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and there shall no plague be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.

29 And it came to pass at midnight, that the Lord smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the first-born of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the first-born of cattle. 30 And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead. 31 And he called for Moses and Aaron by night and said: ‘Rise up, get you forth from among my people, both ye and the children of Israel; and go, serve the Lord, as ye have said. 32 Take both your flocks and your herds, as ye have said, and be gone; and bless me also.’ 33 And the Egyptians were urgent upon the people, to send them out of the land in haste; for they said: ‘We are all dead men.’

II Kings Chapter 4

25 So she went, and came unto the man of God to Mount Carmel. And it came to pass, when the man of God saw her afar off, that he said to Gehazi his servant: ‘Behold, yonder is that Shunammite. 26 Run, I pray thee, now to meet her, and say unto her: Is it well with thee? Is it well with thy husband? Is it well with the child?’ And she answered: ‘It is well.’ 27 And when she came to the man of God to the hill, she caught hold of his feet. And Gehazi came near to thrust her away; but the man of God said: ‘Let her alone; for her soul is bitter within her; and the Lord hath hid it from me, and hath not told Me.’ 28 Then she said: ‘Did I desire a son of my lord? Did I not say: Do not deceive me?’ 29 Then he said to Gehazi: ‘Gird up thy loins, and take my staff in thy hand, and go thy way; if thou meet any man, salute him not; and if any salute thee, answer him not; and lay my staff upon the face of the child.’ 30 And the mother of the child said: ‘As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee.’ And he arose, and followed her.

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