Saving Moses: It Takes a Village
The story of unaccompanied migrant children is as old as the story of baby Moses in the book of Exodus.
Moses’ story begins – when he is just a baby at a time and context where the enslaved Hebrew peoples had already endured years… decades of slavery. It was wearying and pressure and tensions were rising. The enslaved population was exploding causing the Pharoah to be concerned, because the race of the slaves within Egypt’s borders was the same race as the surrounding nations exerting pressure on Egypt’s borders.
I can’t help but think of the growing undocumented population in this country, now 11 million, who live in a state of uncertainty and fear, second-class citizens. For many it is a kind of slavery. Some were brought here by labor contractors. Some forced to migrate because of dangerous, dire or desperate situations back home. Some shelled out $5,000-$10,000 dollars to pay their safe passage here, and now are working to pay off their debt. Some working several jobs, day after day, – too often at sub-legal wages, sub human conditions, threatened with deportation if they speak up or complain. But they must continue to work, to provide for the most basic of necessities. To support the survival of family members here and back home.
Pharaoh said, that they were “too many” causing great fear and insecurity; a threat to the system of slavery; a threat to the empire. They were “too many” and so the Pharoah enacted laws and commandments to reduce the population. The first, being the law to make sure the babies did not survive in childbirth – that all the male babies should be killed at birth.
And like in the Pharoah’s times, the leaders of this land have said that there are “too many.” The have enacted laws to promote self-deportation, to drive people away, or back home, or further underground. The same fears of overpopulation. Fear of the other. Enacted systems of mass deportation, lucrative industries of detention of parents and children. Broken up families, kept them separated and apart – so that children and families have no chance to thrive.
In the story of baby Moses’ migration to safety, it is the midwives- Puah and Shiprah. It is not clear if they themselves were Hebrew or Egyptian, but they served as midwives to both Hebrew and Egyptian women. They were most likely managers/coordinators of the other midwives in the land with resources, people, institutions under their control. Facing orders, would they submit and accept Pharoah’s law to command their resources for harm? Bravely, the midwives chose God’s law over Pharoah’s law. They chose the protection of life….the preservation of life — over Pharoah’s law – of genocide and death.
When called before the authorities and questioned to give an account for their actions: How is it that the boy babies are living? They give a sly answer. “It is because the Hebrew women give birth so easily. The babies are arriving before we even get there.” It appears they organized a work slow down — so that the midwives would arrive late, after the babies were already born.
When laws, edicts of death and genocide lie before us, what is our personal call to conscience? How ought we to organize for the protection and preservation of life and give account for our actions?
The Pharoah, seeing that the midwives could not be coerced to follow his orders, then orders that all the male children be thrown into the Nile after their birth. Somehow believed, that if we kill all the male babies, there will be no more. No future, no more. A cruel but also shortsighted plan. If Moses’ people were no more, who would do the work? Who would help build the country?
It is hard to imagine a land so violent as to command the killing of babies at birth. Or is it? When you hear the stories of the kind of violence and brutality committed by organized crime and narcotraffickers with impunity. The kind of violence people are living amidst. Girls being raped. People forced to pay“Renta,” thousands of dollars in extortion, or be killed. Boys being mandatorily conscripted into the gangs or be killed. The involvement and corruption of local police forces or their own inability to protect the people. In either case, leaving the populace vulnerable to extraordinary and unimaginable violence. No future, no more.
Enter, Jochebed, mother of Moses and Miriam and Aaron. A women enslaved, living in a land not her own. Being a mother in a world with laws seeking to kill her babies. Like most mothers, and fathers, loved her children and would do everything she could to protect them.
She cannot and will not give up her child to death without trying everything she can. She creates a way out of no way. An act of hope and desperation, she constructs a little basket boat of papyrus so that he can float in the reeds. She sets him in the water to flow upstream wherever the waters will take him- upstream, into the belly of the beast, the seat of power and wealth, where his chances for survival would be better than the certain death if she did nothing. She knows, she hopes, perhaps that someone might see him, see her beautiful baby and choose to let him live.
Is it not the same desperate conditions, the fear of violence and certain death. An act of hope and love that would drive a parent to do the same – giving up her child, so that they might live?
She could not float or hide with the baby herself. It was too risky, too much of a liability. Too dangerous for her and the baby – if she were seen and caught. But of course, she could not send the baby completely alone. He would need a guide an accompanyer. So she sends Miriam, his sister -possibly just 8-10 years old herself- following the basket from the riverbank, to keep him from harm. Not unlike those who travel North- children sent with an uncle, a grandmother, and older brother or sister. But ICE does not recognize them as a family – but separates them at the border, calling them unaccompanied. The story doesn’t say how long the journey was – if it was one day, or even weeks in the moving current. Right under the nose of danger.
Eventually the floating basket crossed the border and was found, lo and behold, by Pharoah’s own daughter. “When she opened up the basket. The baby wept. So she had compassion for him and said this is one of the Hebrews’ children.” She picked the baby up out of the water to save and protect it. Her heart was moved by the preciousness and sacredness of every child – regardless of his status, race or people. Regardless of the edicts and laws and social constructions of the land.
She named him Moses– literally, because I drew him out of the water… and took him as her son. Saved his life, provided for him, educated him, and equipped him for the role he would later play in his life: as a leader and a liberator of his people.
It took many people willing to take risks, to cross borders, to transgress orders, to open up their hearts and homes to save baby Moses from danger:
– The Sacrificing Mother willing to do sacrifice and risk for her child’s survival;
– The Protective Sister who stood vigil – stood watch – and accompanied through the dangerous journey;
– The daring and clever Midwives – managers under the system of Empire- finding ways to not implement destructive laws – but to protect life and all children;
– The Pharoah’s daughter… the “Other” – even the daughter of the “enemy,” willing to have her heart moved with compassion; able to see the sacredness and humanity of every child beyond the categories and labels she had been taught. Willing to love another as family.
Who are you in this story? Who are you called to be?
– Rev. Deborah Lee shared with the SF Interfaith Immigration Coalition Sept. 2014 meeting