Life (Story by Risa Peris)

Moses was an old man and he took very long to do everything. Even when manna fell from heaven he was slow to eat wafers that covered the ground of the Sinai. 

“They taste like honey,” I said. It was a whisper. I wasn’t really supposed to talk to him. There was much manna near our tent and this reflected my parents piety. I wanted to share with Moses. 

“I’m going to the mountain,” Moses mumbled. He always spoke in a low voice as he had a speech impediment. It was not words that flung us into the Sinai. It was a belief we could leave free in a land of milk and honey. 

The manna sustained us. We were starving. There was no other food in the Sinai. 

Moses disappeared for a long time and people became anxious so they constructed the Gold Calf and danced around. My parents wouldn’t let me but the calf was beautiful; the dancing and music reverberated across our camp. 

When Moses came down from the mountain he had laws. God’s laws. The Golden Calf enraged him and he ordered the death of many. We watched the massacre with fear in our hearts. The manna did not cease. God continued to give us manna. With God’s laws we traveled further. 

I was now a woman, pregnant, and strong in my belief that my child would be pious. 

We began burning, sacrificing, and offering to God. Our tabernacle was built and we created fires for God, the dead, and the living. But mostly we prayed to reach our land. My child was born and I named her Life. I marked her name in ashes on her lovely forehead. Life. 


The Rabbi was not pleased. He rubbed her forehead, dipping his calloused finger near the fire and wrote death on her. I gasped. My husband stood gripping his scabbard. The Rabbi was unmoved. 

“You cannot proclaim life. Only God can. For her well being change her name. Hurry before Moses comes.”

I renamed her Rebecca in the smoky night. Moses passed our tent. He did not look at me or Rebecca who was suckling at my breasts under a cloth. Moses bellowed out in his marred Hebrew. 

“We move forward to Canaan. Our days of roaming the desert are finished. We now have a strong group who can forge a life in a land that is ours. Many of you have spent your life in the Sinai. You do not remember Egypt. Follow me to freedom.”

My husband and I packed our things and slung them over mules and donkeys. Our servant slept little during the night. We consumed manna in the morning and set off with the elderly Moses leading us. 

I hugged Rebecca to my breast. She was my life. She was life. And then she became ill before we reached a new land. She died in my arms. I made burnt offerings to her brittle life. I beat my breast for marking her with life. One must be patient, unproud, and demonstrate the utmost humility in life. But above all, one must be patient. Isn’t that the meaning of the Golden Calf and me marking my child with life when my pride marked her for death?

I wept all the way to Canaan. Milk and honey left me unmoved. Only life and death had any meaning to me. I became less pious and eventually left God. Soon my life was lost in the detritus of battle and when I left mortals there was no smoke filled light. There was only darkness and I ached for Rebecca whom I had daringly called life. 



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