This Shabbat represents a powerful confluence between Torah and our American civil
rights movement. Seven times in our Torah portion Va’era, Moses goes to Pharoah and
repeats God’s powerful command: “Let my people go, so they can worship [God].” But
we also hear it echo in our American history. “Let my people go” serves not only as the
freedom song of the children of Israel, but it also rings from the mouths of all those
who have dedicated themselves to abolishing slavery in America. Harriet Tubman, a
conductor on the Underground Railroad, was likened to Moses. We still sing the
spiritual, “Go Down Moses.” America was once, and seems sadly sometimes to remain,
“Egypt land. Let my people go.” Of course, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., also
compared to Moses, sung his final song in his now famous speech “I’ve Been to the
Mountaintop.” It is a song of redemption and hope:
We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because
I’ve been to the mountaintop … And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the
promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight,
that we, as a people will get to the promised land.
As we celebrate the legacy of this Shabbat of Moses and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
(may their memories be a blessing!); as we encounter a wilderness still so full of
racism, xenophobia and residual slavery; as there remains hard-hearted pharaohs that
continue to try to shackle a better world; as we are heirs to the Emancipation of Exodus
and the Civil Rights Movement, let us do our part to finish the work started by our
visionary and courageous forebears, singing “Let my people go” however many times it
takes to ensure the freedom of all. And may our enduring song of liberty empower us
to be a collective force for good and become a beacon of light.
Make it a day of blessing and be a force for good.
Rabbi Craig Marantz
P.S. I hope you will take a look at a “D’var Torah” interview I just did with Israeli
journalist Shmuel Rosner on parashat Va’era. Mr. Rosner has a program called Rosner’s
Domain, and I am honored and blessed to have had an opportunity to participate.