The Long Narrow Pharaoh & the Midwives Who Gave Birth to Freedom

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By Rabbis Phyllis Ocean Berman & Arthur Ocean Waskow

When the ancient rabbis planned the sacred Jewish calendar, they made sure that Passover would always come in the Spring. For Spring is a time for birthing. Just as lambs are born and barley sprouts in spring, so Freedom is born -- and midwives begin the birthing.

This story is  an extension, a midrash, on the Torah story of the midwives who resisted Pharaoh. It takes the story further into the birthing of the people, and sees the midwives as leading heroes of the transformation, all the way to the Great Breaking of the Waters at the Sea of Blood.

The powerful "portrait" of the Narrow Pharaoh is by Avi Katz.

We invite you to use this story as part of the Telling of the Great Liberation on one night of Passover. (If you do, please make a contribution to The Shalom Center  as a gift of freedom to act on behalf of freedom.)  And please let us know your reactions and responses and those of your Seder guests.

Blessings for a joyful rebirth of your own,  and the rebirth of all humanity and earth from this dark time of world-wide eco-crisis into a springtime of new freedom from all Pharaohs!

-- --  Phyllis & Arthur

Long long ago, there was a looong thin river. Along its banks there was a looong thin country. The country was ruled by a looong thin King.

He was so famous for being long and thin that when people spoke directly to him, they called him not "Your Royal Highness" but  "Your Royal Longness."

But his name was "Pharaoh," and behind his back, they called him "Narrow Pharaoh."

Pharaoh was long and narrow because he didn't like to eat.

"Eating is fun," he said. "And kissing is fun. And laughing is fun. Being a king is serious. It is not supposed to be fun!" ¬

"Long and narrow is serious," he said. "But eating makes bulges. Bulges are not serious."

"No more bulges!" said the long narrow Pharaoh.

"I am long and narrow,
"My kingdom is long and narrow,
"And all my people shall become long and narrow!

"When I am not eating, no one shall eat.
"When I am not kissing, no one shall kiss.
"When I am not laughing, no one shall laugh."

One morning, Narrow Pharaoh looked out the window. There was a chubby little baby laughing in the grass.

The King began to frown. "Babies make bulges, too," he said.

"If you put a baby in a long thin woman, you make a bulge in her.
"If you put too many babies in a long thin country, you make a bulge in the country."

"I hate babies!" said the long thin King.
"They cry when I am not sad,
"And they smile when I am not happy.
"They eat when I am not hungry,
And they smell  all the time!"

So Narrow Pharaoh went to his high high throne.

Up the steps he walked    five steps, eleven steps, seventeen steps.

When he looked very very tall, and very very thin, he spoke in a very narrow voice:

"Send me my Minister of Exact Justice!"

The Minister stalked in.

He was almost as thin as the King,

And his clothes were even thinner.

He was almost as tall as the King,

And his hat was even taller.

Said Narrow Pharaoh, "Tell me how to get rid of these extra babies!"

April 2011--Mixing Memory, Desire, & Action

Rabbi Arthur Waskow of The Shalom Center addresses supporters of freedom, social justice, and healing for the Earth, linking the legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., the actions on April 4 surrounding the commemoration of his death, and the  celebrations this year of Passover, Palm Sunday, and Earth Day.

The Long Narrow Pharaoh and the Pass-over People

Rabbi Arthur Waskow and Rabbi Phyllis Berman read their own telling of the Passover story -- a tale they call "The Long Narrow Pharaoh and the Pass-over People". It originally appeared in their collection Tales of Tikkun: New Jewish Stories to Heal the Wounded World (Rowman & Littlefield). You can find the text of this story at

"Avatar," Exodus, & Kabbalah

The film AVATAR weaves together what we usually call the spiritual and the political. Indeed, whether its director realized it consciously or not, AVATAR echoes two major strands of religious wisdom that began in Jewish thought but have had deep influence on cultures far beyond the boundaries of Jewish peoplehood. The two strands of ancient wisdom are "archetypal" -- that is, they appear over and over again in human thought because they arise in human experience and yearning -- with or without conscious transmission of the stories.


[This is a thoroughly revised version of Chapter 9 of my book Seasons of Our Joy, originally published in 1982 and most recently published in 1990 by Beacon Press.
[In the years since, the book has often been called a classic. Readers -- both Jews and others -- tell me its approach to the history, the spiritual meaning, and the actual practice of the festivals remains very helpful to them.

The AVATAR film & Tu B'Shvat: the ReBirthDay of trees & The Tree

Dear fellow-seekers for peace and healing of the earth,

[Bottom line for this letter: I urge that multireligious groups together see the new film Avatar this month; learn with me by teleconference seminar on Thursday evening January 21 the connections between this film and the meaning of the festival of Tu B'Shvat that celebrates the ReBirthDay of the Tree of Life; and then gather January 29 to eat together the sacred meal of Tu B'Shvat. Why? See the unfolding below. -- AW]

Renaming God in Order to Free the World

[Posted January 10, 2007: This word of Torah is dedicated to the memory of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, may the memory of this tzaddik ("upright person, justice-worker") continue to bless us. He was born on January 11, 1907. I had originally intended to send out this biblical / contemporary comment tomorrow, but it looks as if we will need that day to campaign against the cockamamie plan to send more American soldiers to Iraq. In this way we can ACT in Heschel's memory -- for he stood alongside Martin Luther King to oppose the Vietnam War.]

Names, Births, Wellsprings, & Firstborns

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 12/28/2004

Dear Chevra,

The Torah portion for this Shabbat is named "Shemot/ Names," because it begins with the names of the sons of Jacob who had come down to Egypt centurie before, in time of famine. After this echo of Genesis, it turns to new names - of many sorts.

The first two names are those of "Yisrael - the Godwrestlers" and "Mitzrayyim" - the Hebrew word for "Tight and Narrow Place" and also for Egypt (a long narrow land strung out along the Nile, with kings who become more and more narrow-minded).

Heschel Yohrzeit & Haftarah

Passages from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, 12/28/2004


Rabbenu Heschel died on 18 Tevet. Especially when his yohrzeit falls in the week of Shemot (as it usually does), there are some powerful connections between his work and the Torah portion.

We urge individuals and congregations to take some time to explore these passages and especially on the Shabbat when we read the story of the midwives, to place them in the context of these women who "invented" nonviolent civil disobedience.

When Moses Burned Inside the Burning Bush

Rabbi Arthur Waskow & Rabbi Phyllis Berman

When Moses Burned Inside the Burning Bush

By Arthur Ocean Waskow & Phyllis Ocean Berman

Moses chased after the dancing lamb just as it disappeared around the mountainside; tripped, cut his knee, lost one sandal in a bramble patch. He rose hobbling, saw another patch of brambles — burning.

Yelling "Oh my God!" he dashed to clear a firebreak lest flames spread to the other dry thorn bushes on the mountain. His other sandal clattered unheeded off the path. He tripped, fell into this blazing bush, moaning, "Oh my God, my God."


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