Exodus: Beneath the Apple Trees

This year I will be joining my friends in the Diocese of Southern Ohio as we read the Book of Exodus together. Preparing for this, I’ve found myself dipping into Jewish midrash, especially the Shemot Rabbah, which, according to sefaria.org was composed in 1200 CE in Talmudic Israel/Babylon. I’m honestly not sure what that means. Was in composed in two places? Sefaria provides the text, but not much information about it, and I haven’t found more online. But while reading through it, I was struck by a beautiful story about the Hebrew women giving birth, a magical scene that has the logic and poetry of a fairy tale. I took some liberties in turning it into a poem. If you would like to read the original, you can find it on Sefaria at this address. Here’s my poem:

When the Israelite women conceived
they gave birth under apple trees,
where, loved by the divine, light woke them.

Angels came and cleansed them,
with water bright with apple seeds,
and white blossoms, softly fallen, were their altar.

When the Egyptian masters learned
of these birth rites of the chosen
they came into the apple groves with long knives to kill them.

But angels made the earth a womb,
and placed the children in it, and oxen
plowed the sheltering ground, ensuring it was innocent.

When the killers went away again the children,
born like grass again, rose from mud and bracken,
a generation that peeled the eye, and saw the red sea broken.

Now bring us light and empty us, and bury us like seeds
protect us in our innocence with love beneath the apple trees,
and when we wake from death again, ensure that we can see.

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