Footnoted song lyrics

Snow/Scorpions And Spiders (Annotated), by Girls in Trouble

Well my mother named me bitter1
Although as a child I was so kind
Hiding myself in the trees to watch over my brother2

But still my name was bitter
Bitter the taste of the sea3
Bitter the cries of the horses drowning behind us4

If anybody had asked me
I might not have chosen to go
But everyone knows
Sometimes you don't have a choice

So when he said You’re banished, Seven days in the desert alone
I just started walking
I knew there was nothing to say

The scorpions and the spiders5
Crawled up to me and stopped in my shade6
Together in silence we watched
As the sun crossed the sky

And if your father spit in your face7
Wouldn’t you want to leave that place8
And if your skin should turn to snow9
Wouldn’t you have to go
And if your God should turn from you wouldn’t you turn too.

Still I don’t regret a minute
And I don’t regret an hour
of the week that I lived all alone10
at the top of the mountain11

Though no voice came down from heaven
and I never saw words written in fire12
I did see the birds of prey pick all the carcasses clean13

If anybody had asked me
I might not have chosen to go
But everyone knows
Sometimes you don’t have a choice (cont’d)

And if your father spit in your face
Wouldn’t you want to leave that place
And if your skin should turn to snow
Wouldn’t you have to go
And if your God should turn from you
wouldn’t you turn too.

1 The Hebrew etymology of “Miriam” can be read in various ways. One common way to interpret her name is “bitter waters,” since the first two letters, mem-resh, mean bitter (“mar”), and the last two, yud-mem, mean ocean or sea (“yam”).

2 In Exodus 2:1-10, the Torah describes Miriam, as a girl, watching over her baby brother Moses as he floats down the Nile in a basket of reeds. (Their mother has disobeyed Pharaoh’s commandment to kill all Israelite boys, but eventually can hide him no longer and sends him off down the river.) Miriam watches Pharaoh’s daughter draw Moses from the water, offers to find a Hebrew nurse for the baby, and brings him back to their mother to be nursed.

3 See #1.

4 This detail is a midrashic note of my own—building on the Torah’s description of the Israelites passing through the Sea of Reeds, and then the waters closing over Pharaoh’s army in their horse-drawn chariots of war. I couldn’t help but imagine the cries of those horses and how terrifying they must have been.

This line is partially inspired by the famous midrash in which God rebukes the angels for rejoicing in the Israelites’ safe crossing, since Egyptians were dying at that very moment:

As the Egyptians started to drown in the Red Sea, the heavenly hosts began to sing praises, but God silenced the angels, saying, “The works of my hands are drowning in the sea, and you wish to sing praises!” (Talmud, Tractate Megillah 10b)

5 People often ask me where these scorpions and spiders came from. The truth is I once met a spider in the desert who made quite an impression on me. When I was in my early twenties and studying in yeshiva in Jerusalem, I made a solo pilgrimage to the desert in the south of Israel to spend the night alone. I had no tent, just a sleeping bag. So I slept under the stars. In the middle of the night, I awoke to find myself staring at a very large black spider a couple feet from my head.

My heart was racing, but there was nothing I could do unless I wanted to keep vigil all night long. I ended up drawing a circle around my sleeping bag in hopes of some vague protection and going back to sleep. In the morning I awoke – no trace of the spider, who (since hadn’t bitten me or crawled into bed with me) now seemed like a friendly visitor instead of an antagonist.

But there are some other cool scorpion and spider sources in Judaism, too. It seems to me that these insects represent the parts of life that seem ugly, that we wish would go away. These parts actually may be the thing to save us one day. The following story is a good illustration of this idea.

The midrash tells the story of King David, one of the most intelligent men in Jewish history who as a young boy once asked for what purpose G-d created spiders on this earth. G-d answered that there would come a day when King David would need a spider and then he would thank G-d for creating the spider. Many years later, when David incurred the wrath of King Saul, and was on the run from Saul’s soldiers, David escaped into a cave to hide. He heard the soldiers near the cave and knew they would find him.

Suddenly a big spider appeared in front of the cave, and spun a web across the opening. When the soldiers came they did not look in David’s cave, because they assumed that he would have torn the web when he entered the cave. David’s life was saved by a spider, and on that day, David understood that G-d was wise, and thanked G-d for creating all creatures. Ben Sira 23B, Otzar Midrashim 47

Source: http://www.jewcology.com/resource/Parshat-Emor-Our- relationship-to-Other-Creatures

6 I liked the idea of Miriam, in her banishment, being able to provide safety and shade to these desert creatures in a way she never could have from the relative comfort of her normal life.

7 People often assume I made this up, but as you know if you just read the text, this “spitting” metaphor is straight from the Torah story, Numbers 12:14! I’m fascinated by how God uses this harsh language to describe God’s own actions, rather than making apologies or excuses.

8 Perhaps the exile, from Miriam’s perspective, was welcome—perhaps she couldn’t have just gone on as if nothing happened, and she herself needed to recover from this event as much as G-d “needed” to punish her.

9 Snow-white scales on a person’s skin is the Torah’s classic description of Biblical leprosy (which, by the way, is totally different from medical leprosy.) in this case, Numbers 12:10.

10 Numbers 12:17

11 This, and the following two lines, implicitly compare Miriam’s experience to Moses’. I find it interesting to think about them side by side: this brother-sister pair of leaders, with their shared histories, similarities and differences. Earlier in the Torah, God invites moses up to receive the Ten Commandments alone on a mountain; here, God sends Miriam away for a seven-day exile in the wilderness.

Both of them are singled out and experience isolation from the community; but Moses is invited up a mountain, drawn closer to God during that time, and given a sacred text, while Miriam is sent further away, out into the desert. What does she learn out there? Is there a Torah out there, too, a different kind of wisdom that comes from being excluded rather than invited in?

12 The Zohar, perhaps the most important book in Jewish mysticism, famously describes the letters of Torah as “black fire on white fire.”

13 I am interested in what Miriam might have learned out there in the wilderness. Sometimes I imagine her desert week as the ancient equivalent of a seven-day silent meditation retreat. As opposed to the Torah Moses received on Sinai, her wisdom would not be increased through words or specific instructions, but through observing the natural world around herself—the cycles of day and night, life and death, perhaps even sadness and joy. I like to think Miriam returned with her own Torah of solitude and maybe was able to pass that on to some of her disciples, as Moses passed down the scrolls he received on Mount Sinai. Maybe some of that wisdom can comfort us in our own times of personal moments of exile or isolation.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Footnoted song lyrics." (Viewed on July 26, 2021) <https://jwa.org/node/22272>.

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