How does Yokheved react to the death of her last child, Moses?
Like that of other bereft mothers in Jewish legend — Sarah, whose heart bursts joyfully upon her learning that Isaac has been spared from Abraham’s knife; and Rachel, who forever weeps for her exiled children–Yokheved’s mourning for her son is of epic proportions. Refusing to believe that Moses is really dead, she retraces his forty-year journey, looking for him, returning to Egypt, where she questions the Nile and the Red Sea, and then inquiring of the desert, Mount Sinai, and the rock that Moses struck in anger. Each protests that it hasn’t seen her son since Moses performed miracles upon it. Joshua follows a similar course, until God chides him: “How long will you continue to seek Moses in vain? He is dead, but indeed it is I that have lost him, and not you.”
— Ellen Frankel in The Five Books of Moses, based on Louis Ginzberg’s Legends of the Jews (“The Mourning for Moses”)
Legends of the Jews
Ginzberg’s Legends of the Jews is an early 20th Century anthology of midrash. Varied sources are woven together into tales which are readable and fascinating on their own. This is not the resource, however, for tracking down individual sources and their contexts. Translated from the German by Henrietta Szold, this work is now available on-line at Sacred-Texts.com and Project Guttenberg. A print re-issue (seven volumes) is available from the Jewish Publication Society.
Frankel’s 1996 portion-by-portion commentary ends with Miriam the Prophet declaring: “Indeed, it is you who have lost me, but if you seek me, I will show myself to you. And together we will choose life!”
Frankel’s volume has served to help many women and men find ways to do just that for over a decade: While her text is only mentioned sporadically in these “Great Source” posts, it is a valuable resource year-round.
The Five Books of Miriam closes with “Miriam Ha-N’viah,” verses crafted by Leila Gal Berner to accompany Eliyahu Ha-Navi” at havdalah, but quite apt for the closing/renewal of the Torah cycle:
Miriam the prophet, strength and song in her hand
Miriam dance with us in order to increase the song of the world.
Miriam dance with us in order to repair the world.
Soon she will bring us to the waters of redemption.
The RitualWell link (above) includes an audio version of these verses. Please see Source Materials for more citations.