“Wake up, Ariel! We haven’t got a minute to lose,” Ima shouts from the kitchen.
I am still sleeping on my mat in the other room. Groggily, I open my eyes and blink until they adjust to the morning light. I get up slowly; it feels like I am moving through a marshmallow (even though it hasn’t been created yet).
I get dressed as quickly as I can, and then I walk into the other room to see Ima in a flurry, making dough and food. She often does this, but not so fast that I can’t see her hands moving.
“Where’s Aba?” I ask.
“Outside packing our things,” she replies, “because we are free–it’s true!”
I nearly faint. She laughs at my awestruck expression. I squeeze her tight and run outside expecting parades and music, but instead I see people loading wagons with possessions piled high. I don’t understand. If Pharaoh has freed us, why can’t we stay? This is my home, after all.
I ask Aba and he answers that Pharaoh changes his mind too easily. If we want to stay free we must flee.
After all, the only things that changed Pharaoh’s view on slavery were the awful plagues. Hashem had appeared to Moses, and told him to go to Pharaoh and tell him to let the Israelite slaves go. But Pharaoh had a hard heart, which was softened only by the ten plagues. It started with the Nile turning to blood, and ended with the death of every firstborn boy (including Pharaoh’s own son). Each one was worse than the last, and it’s a wonder that Pharaoh didn’t let us go sooner!
I go inside the hut again and help Ima make the bread. We hear the wagons rumbling down the street and look at each other with fright.
“The dough won’t have time to rise!” I say.
“Flat bread is better than no bread” Ima responds, so we stuff the unleavened dough into bags that we carry on our backs.
Aba finishes loading the wagon, and we join the line of escaping people. Some are not Israelites, but are also enslaved people who want to be free. I run into the line and search for my best friend, Shira. I find her and we walk together. We see a man with a great, long rod in his hand.
“That’s Moshe (Moses)!” Shira whispers to me. Moshe?! We are standing next to the man who almost single-handedly freed us! “He turned his rod into a snake, and then turned it back!” she says. “I know! Everyone knows,” I whisper back.
I see Egyptians walk out of their houses and stare at the sight of the parade of escaping slaves. As the line passes by the pyramids, I see the unfinished one. All work has halted. I wonder who is going to finish it. Not I. The taskmasters who once controlled us now watch us with their mouths hanging open in surprise. I stop walking for a moment to stick my tongue out at them.
Shira bumps into me. “Oops,” she says.
“Hey!” I say. Then I bump her. She bumps me back.
We keep doing this until we fall over, giggling at the silliness of it.
But our giggling stops abruptly at the sound of chariot wheels rumbling down the path. We were walking before, but now we are running. But we are no match for the horses and chariots; they are most definitely catching up. As we run, a familiar sight comes into view: The Red Sea. That is not a good thing. It is big enough that we cannot go around, and deep enough that we cannot go through. We are trapped. The chariots close in. They are 50 yards away… 40… 30… 20…10…
We are moaning about how we are going back to slavery. I whisper a prayer to Hashem and wait. He comes through and surrounds the Egyptians by a ring of fire. I whisper thanks to Him, but realize that we have no way of getting across the Red Sea. I have spoken too soon. How will we get across? The idea that we might not get past agonizes me. Freedom lies just a few feet away. Moses is quieting the crowd. “Hashem will let us pass through these waters,” he says in his odd way of talking. (Why does he talk like that? Some people say he ate hot coals as a child…) He turns and raises his staff up over the water. It rises up and churns for a moment, then splits apart and forms two walls as tall as the Empire State Building (which also hasn’t been built yet).
We begin to journey through. The kids discover that although the fish cannot get out, they can put their hands into the water. Shira pets a big blue fish, and a boy makes a cup with his hands, and takes some water. As you can see, we are very curious about the walls. The adults are more interested in getting across than in the walls. This is difficult, because the wagon wheels are getting stuck in the mud that was once the sea bed. We are thousands of people and animals crowded together. The more people who cross, the muddier it gets.
“Aaaaahhh!” someone screams.
I don’t know how they escaped the ring of fire, but Pharaoh’s men are chasing us again.
I run again. I have lost sight of Shira, but I don’t look for her. I run as fast as my legs can carry me until I feel I will pass out.
I notice the dry ground under my feet, and stop to catch my breath. I turn around in time to see Moses raise his staff over the water.
The Egyptians’ chariots are also sinking in the mud as they chase us. We watch in horror as the walls of water cave in and cover them completely (imagine the Empire State Building turning to liquid and collapsing—to give you an idea of how it looks).
We are free… but I don’t know what to do now. What do free people do? A few moments of awkward silence turn to minutes as we all take time to breathe. We are stunned, and exhausted. Moses’ sister, Miriam, begins to tap a rhythm on her tambourine. She starts to sing in a loud, clear voice. People join in; I hear Shira singing too. I begin to sing and dance. Our music is a mish-mash of old and new melodies. If we were seen by a satellite (huh?) we would appear as a colorful, buzzing dot.
The celebration lasts many hours. My voice is hoarse from singing, and my limbs are tired from dancing through the night. But this moment is special, as I realize that I am free.
And that is all that matters.