The subject of my ethnic background has always played a major role in my life.
I grew up with friends that looked like me, acted like me, and accepted me as one of their own. I always felt socially Black, but religiously Jewish and the two never seemed to compliment each other. I always assumed they were two very separate aspects of who I am.
At a fairly young age, I began to delve more into Judaism and thought that perhaps it would all come together. I tried for so long to find ways to incorporate the culture of my upbringing into the religion I was brought up with. As an adolescent one could not exist with the other equally in the forefront, and maybe that was due to an immaturity. However, the more I mature and grow with Judaism, the more I come to wonder if it even matters.
In this week’s Parsha we learn about the passing of our matriarch Sarah. Interestingly enough, the Parsha is called “Chayei Sarah” which means the life of Sarah, although her passing is the first topic thoroughly discussed. There are many possible explanations to this, and one that I found most intriguing was brought down from the Zohar, as expounded on by the Lubavitcher Rebbe. In the second verse, it is written, “Sarah died in Kiryas Arba, which is Hevron, in Canaan.” (Bereishis 23:2). The Rebbe explains that Abraham lived in a constant state of spiritual reality, while Sarah was more grounded and aware of the physical world around her.
In light of this, the Zohar explains the above verse as follows: “Sarah died”, which means that after death, the body is no longer alive. Then, “in Kiryas Arba”, (literally meaning the “city of four”), alludes to the four elements of physical matter (earth, wind, fire, and water). It continues, “which is Hevron”, “Hevron” from the word “chaber”, meaning unified, as in the unification of soul and body. It concludes, “in the land of Canaan”, which is often used to symbolize the physical world.
The Parsha then goes on to say that “Abraham rose from the presence of his dead…”. The Rebbe explains this as after Abraham rose from mourning for his wife, he sought out to find a wife for his son Isaac, the rightful heir and continuation of his G-dly nation. Upon his departure from worldliness, Abraham was able to fulfill the mission of both himself AND Sarah, which was to secure the future of his people. In so doing, Sarah lives on, thus giving us the name of our Parsha.
What I took from this is that remaining attached to physicality, and dwelling on the elements that comprise my physical make up is NOT the way to live. My soul cannot truly fulfill its mission in life until I rise above my physical make up. I am not a Black Jew. Rather, I am a Jew who is Black.
Name is Jonathan Perry. Born and raised in Tucson, AZ. Recently married to the lovely Mikaela Perry. A graduate of University of Arizona with a degree in Music. Alum of Rabbinical College of America, Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim/Tiferes Bachurim.
Header image courtesy of Pixabay.