This was the last of the stories written for the first edition of The Book of Voices (not counting the frame story of Elisheva). It established the creation of the school of the Sisters of Sarah. According to Miriam’s sense of time and that of the school, it happens before the story of Sarah, though it happens centuries later according to the flow of history.
The story came about as I tried to figure out the history and some of the workings of the school. I had established in the frame story that it came to an end, in terms of common history, at about the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. I therefore had to figure out (as least for myself) why it ended then, which led logically to the question of when it had begun. (Since I was almost as deeply immersed in science fiction when young as I was in Judaism, I always want to have a solid sense of how and why things are happening, even if they aren’t all explained to the reader. Ambiguity is OK, but without knowing what’s really going on, a writer runs the risk of having contradictory story details or of inadvertently negating possible interpretations that he might want to keep open.)
I determined, as this story tells, that the magic that sustained the school only existed while the Ark of the Covenant, and the tablets within it, were present in our world. It came into being with the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and ended when the Second Temple was destroyed and the Ark left this world.
Since the school began when the Israelites were in the desert, I was immediately drawn to the character of Miriam as the founder of the school.
There are many legends about Miriam. The best known are the ones surrounding Miriam’s Well. This well was said to follow the Israelites through the desert as long as Miriam was with them. Thus the story here had to involve the well.
Another legend concerns Miriam’s speaking against Moses. According to it, the “Cushite woman” was indeed Moses’s wife, Zipporah. who was originally from Midian. Moses had ignored her and their son since coming down from Mount Sinai. Zipporah had complained to Miriam about the neglect, and Miriam confronted Moses.
I see that I dropped in a quick array of contemporary cultural references at the end as Miriam falls down through the well. She passes
- the Deep Listening Band (who made their first recording within an amazing resonant cistern),
- Alice falling toward Wonderland,
- the Collect from I Never Promised You a Rose Garden,
- Dorothy’s house falling toward Oz, and
- House of Leaves
I know that I’ve seen several movies in which a person’s reflection speaks back to him or her. No exact memories of them come to mind as I write this, though trying to remember brings up the image of the magic mirror from Disney’s Snow White.
This story once again shows God reconsidering something that he has done to people. He doesn’t apologize, but does explain his actions.
The trigger was Miriam’s confronting Moses in public about his wife. Perhaps this should have been done privately. But perhaps Miriam sensed that if she needed witnesses to her confronting him. Otherwise, he might have ignored it just as he was ignoring his family responsibilities.
Have you ever said something to someone in public that you should have said in private? What was the result? Did you regret it? If you had to make up for the error, how did you do so?
On the other hand, did you ever say something to someone privately that would have been better said in public? What was the result?