From "Go Down Moses" to Liberating Earth

Dear  chevra, Last night we searched for chometz; this morning we burn it. We make a sacred flame, an inward flame like the Burning Bush, to consume not only the swollen yeast and sourness we eat, but swollen empire, swollen hatred, swollen violence, swollen armies, swollen Hyper-Wealth. Not only in our enemies but in ourselves.

 In 1969, I felt called to write an Haggadah that was embodied  in the first Freedom Seder on the first anniversary of the murder of Martin Luther King. It celebrated the ongoing liberation struggle of Black America alongside the ancient liberation struggle of Israelites against Pharaoh. It seems to have been the first Haggadah ever  to address a liberation struggle other than a Jewish one. Among its passages from that long campaign was “Go Down Moses” as an outcry that used a Jewish motif to call for Black freedom.

This year, I found myself called again to write what became the Earth and justice Freedom-Seder. It begins with paying honor to the original “Go Down Moses,” and then adds new verses in a Universal outcry tuned especially to the climate crisis. It  challenges the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs who are bringing widespread plagues of fire, flood, & famine on many regions of Earth and plagues of cancer and asthma on targeted low-income neighborhoods,  especially of color.

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The new Earth & Justice Freedom-Seder begins with a section called “Old Vision & New Purpose” about “Go Down Moses.” Here  it is after the song itself. The original song calls us into the struggle against racism. The new verses call us into the  struggle against those who make billions from the burning of all Earth.

When Israel was in Egypt’s land, Let My people go;
Oppressed so hard they could not stand, Let My people go;
Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt’s land,
Tell old Pharaoh: Let My people go!
When they had reached the other shore, Let My people go============================================================;
They sang the song of freedom o’er, Let My people go.
Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt’s land,
Tell old Pharaoh: Let My people go!


New Pharaohs rise to scorch the Earth, Let all My peoples go;

Big Coal and Oil parch new birth,
Let all My peoples go;

Rise up, Peoples, Rise up in every land, Tell ALL Pharaohs:

Let My creation grow!


For the Breath of Life still offers hope, Let all My peoples go;

With sun and wind we well can cope –

Let all My peoples go;

Rise up, People, Rise up in every land, Tell ALL Pharaohs:

Let My creation grow!


Oh, set all Earth from bondage free, Let all My peoples go;

Let our Making pause to Be, Let air and water flow.
Rise Up, Peoples, rise UP in every land, Tell ALL Pharaohs:

Let My creation grow!

As we live here in America, We’ll set our people free!
Races, faiths, and genders all, from Sea to shining Sea!
Rise up, O People, Rise up all across our Land--
Tell new Pharaohs, your oppressions will not stand!


We begin the Seder with one of the great liberation songs connected with the ancient story of the liberation of ancient Israelites enslaved by an ancient Pharaoh. The song was variously known as “When Israel was in Egypt’s land/ Let My People Go!” and “Go Down Moses.” “Go Down Moses” itself drew on an old story for new closely related purposes. We are doing that again, and that itself is a crystal of what we do with this whole Earth and Justice Freedom-Seder. 

The story itself was repurposed in the song when it emerged from an enslaved Black community in the 1840s or 1850s in what had become the United States. It told the ancient story with a new intention: to challenge embedded racist oppression by a modern country with not only enslavement but a broader racism in its practice and its Constitution.

Yet that nation prided itself on a religious story that spoke against oppression. Indeed, the earliest printed version of the song contained one verse that explicitly spoke beyond the story it celebrated: ”Let us all from bondage flee/ Let my people go;/ And let us all in Christ be free,/ Let my people go.” In the original story, of course, Christianity did not yet exist; yet most of the Black community had learned the story from Christian sources, and both inwardly and outwardly, felt it important to honor that context.

 Today we honor  -- indeed, celebrate! – the song precisely because it turns an old vision of liberation to new purposes of liberation. And that is what we seek to do with the song today.

To honor the Black struggle, we begin with a few verses of the original version of the song. And then we bring new verses to be sung to the same melody, again bringing new meaning to the richness of the old outcry. What was a profound outcry against racism we affirm and add a profound outcry against ecocide – the killing of our planet. We are especially moved to absorb in the new verses the meaning as well as the melody of the old. For in our generation, tormenting Earth and forcing it/ her/ them to erupt into new plagues is wrapped into oppressive racism on a global scale.

 All these oppressions spring from the same poison-root . They have become more intense, more nasty, because they are being challenged by a new wave of democracy and ecology—every community, every species, counts. This Seder is part of that wave. See here for the Seder   and here for the Campaign  against the Carbon Pharaohs.

 Shalom, salaam, peace, paz, mir, namaste! -- Arthur



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