BookFeast of YahWhirlwind

We Can’t Breathe A Passover Poem for Our Times

Except from Prophetic Whirlwind: Uncovering The Black Biblical Destiny

On April 11, 2017, I was invited to give the opening reflection for the Lab Shul Freedom Feast Passover Seder. For the Seder Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie assigned me a passage from Exodus, which when read in Hebrew shows that the Hebrew slaves were so oppressed they could barely breathe—or even hear—what Moses was trying to tell them:

“For this reason, say unto the children of Israel, I am Yah and I will bring you out from under the Burdens of the Egyptians and I will free you out of their bondage. I will take you to me for a people and I will be your Yah and you shall know that I AM, which delivers you out from under the burdens. But when Moses told this to the Israelites, ‘they could not listen to Moses, because they were short of breath and impatient due to the burdens of the labor.”

Exodus Chapter 6 Verses 6-9 (translation based on the original Hebrew)

Over the past few years since Eric Garner was choked to death in Staten Island, New York, many have cried, “I Can’t Breathe,” at protest. This reminded me of the above biblical passage, and as I opened the Freedom Seder, I declared:

The Hebrews could not hear Moses because they were short of breath and impatient. They couldn’t breathe and they couldn’t wait for freedom.

I can’t wait! I can’t breathe! I can’t wait! I can’t breathe!

A slave hears the Exodus story and finds inspiration to run away with Harriet Tubman our Moses seeing himself as an  Israelite.

I can’t wait! I can’t breathe! I can’t wait! I can’t breathe!

Eric Garner screams, “I can’t breathe!” as he is choked to death by a police officer.

I can’t wait! I can’t breathe! I can’t wait! I can’t breathe!

Dark-skinned women receive 12% longer prison sentences than their lighter- skinned counterparts.

I can’t wait! I can’t breathe! I can’t wait! I can’t breathe!

Four little black girls gather for Sunday school in Birmingham only to hear bombs instead of Bible Study.

I can’t wait! I can’t breathe! I can’t wait! I can’t breathe!

Decades later Egyptian Christians gather for Palm Sunday service only to hear the same bombs those little girls heard in Birmingham so many years earlier.

I can’t wait! I can’t breathe! I can’t wait! I can’t breathe!

Ethiopian Jewish women stage Black Lives Matter Protest in Israel demanding their rights as modern day Zipporah’s and Esther’s.

I can’t wait! I can’t breathe! I can’t wait! I can’t breathe!

Historians are uncovering that slave masters would not allow the enslaved to hear the Exodus narrative because almost all slave rebellions were led by Black preachers who read the Hebrew Bible. There is scholarship that shows that some slave masters would even go as far as to create a slave bible with the Torah removed so slaves couldn’t access the Exodus text.

In this place, during this time, we are reclaiming and unveiling these stories. Can you wait? Can you breathe? I can’t wait because I can’t breathe!

Then I remember the Ruach, the very breathe of the Creator, is available to all of us, great and small, slave and free, and I breathe…will you join me?