the portion va’era offers proof of the torah being a living and eternal document. exodus 6:10-11, says “the lord spoke to moses, saying, “come, speak to pharaoh, the king of egypt, and he will let the children of israel out of his land. ” a similar verbiage was used in exodus of 5:1.
from its existence, the torah has been passed from generation to generation for thousands of years. unlike other texts from antiquity, it has been read and taught on an annual basis. scribes dutifully create new versions in accordance with the tradition. further, it has become published en masse.
in approximate the year 70, passover seder observance began and has continued to present day. the passover seder came at a period of great despair. those who lost both their nation and temple were in need of inspiration.
moving forward in time, the words of the exodus brought inspiration to those fighting for emancipation in the united states pre-emancipation. abolitionist harriet tubman, who was famous for freeing slaves through an underground railroad, may have used the words of exodus to pen the song “go down moses.” whether or not she wrote the song, she was employed the song code to free slaves. at one point, it was reportedly outlawed.
mr. louis armstrong is credited for writing the song “go down moses.” his lyrics were in part “go down moses
way down in egypt land tell all pharaoes to
let my people go!”
if one asks, what was the purpose of keeping known the words of a book from antiquity, harriet tubman would have certainly given an insightful answer. from the facts, one can surmise that the torah’s purpose, in part, was to provide an assist in freeing the african american slaves in the united states. the freed african american slaves have a special and ongoing connection to the torah.
with this history, the song “go down moses” circled back. in the united states and elsewhere, there is a point during passover seders when songs relating to the holiday are sung. “go down moses,” in many seders, has become part of the liturgy of the holiday. in over 6 decades of passover seders, i have no recollection of a time when “go down moses” was not sung. the spiritual has become part of an almost 2000 year old tradition.
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